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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Nebraska senators debate lethal injection secrecy bill

A proposal that would let Nebraska officials hide the identities of lethal injection suppliers drew criticism Wednesday from death penalty opponents but support from lawmakers who say the state needs it to resume executions.

It was unclear whether the bill had enough support to overcome a filibuster, but the senator who introduced it said he believes he has a decent chance to advance it through the Legislature.

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell said the bill seeks to protect drug makers who would otherwise face public harassment from death penalty opponents. Commonly used lethal injection drugs have become scarce because many North American and European pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell drugs for use in executions.

"I believe the harm created by this disclosure far outweighs any alleged benefit," said Kuehn, a veterinarian who said he has faced drug shortages in his practice.

Lawmakers began debate on the bill Wednesday but adjourned for the day without voting on it.

Kuehn said concealing the supplier's identity would allow Nebraska officials to purchase drugs from a domestic supplier, such as a compounding pharmacy, to circumvent the problems associated with importing overseas drugs.

Kuehn said he never wanted to deal with capital punishment when he ran for office, but he views the loss of legitimate drugs as too great a problem. He said the supplier's identity was irrelevant to the drugs' quality.

"I truly do believe this is an issue of social justice," he said.

Opponents said the state should keep its current transparent process that requires the Department of Correctional Services to disclose its suppliers.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a staunch death penalty opponent, predicted the bill would trigger new appeals and that the courts would make "mincemeat" out of it. Chambers said death penalty supporters should blame themselves for the drug shortage.

"They took something that was wholesome, something designed to promote health, and turned it into a killing substance," Chambers said.

Nebraska corrections director Scott Frakes has said he has already started to look for drugs to carry out executions, but told a legislative committee in February that it would be "very difficult" to acquire them if the department was forced to identify its suppliers.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, 15 have enacted similar shield laws.

Gov. Pete Ricketts approved a new lethal injection protocol in January that gives the Department of Correctional Services greater flexibility to choose which drugs are used in executions. An early draft of the protocol included a secrecy provision, but Frakes said department officials removed it after deciding they first needed legislative approval.

Voters signaled their support for the death penalty last year when they overturned the Legislature's 2015 decision to abolish capital punishment. The issue was placed on the ballot through a referendum partially financed by Ricketts, who supports capital punishment.

Death penalty supporters portrayed the vote as a mandate for state officials to resume executions. Nebraska hasn't executed an inmate since 1997, using the electric chair. The state has 10 men on death row, but has never carried out the punishment with lethal injection.

"We do not have the right to obstruct justice, and that is what is happening here," said Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte. Defendants sentenced to death "are the worst of the worst of the human race. They chose their fate."

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Omaha, a death penalty opponent, said voters never specified whether they supported concealing suppliers' identities.

Source: Associated Press, April 20, 2017


No public value in revealing names of lethal injection drug suppliers, says sponsor of bill


The sponsor of legislation that would hide the identities of lethal injection drug suppliers in Nebraska argued Wednesday that there is no public value in disclosing the names of pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Opponents of the lethal injection bill countered that an open accounting of tax expenditures is fundamental to good government and that it should not be "thrown away" to make executions easier for state officials.

State lawmakers launched the debate on Legislative Bill 661 this morning before breaking for lunch. They will return to the discussion later this afternoon before they adjourn for the day.

It will then be up to Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, the bill's sponsor, to show he has a filibuster-proof majority before the bill would be scheduled for additional debate this year.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha along with other opponents have indicated they will stretch out the debate to 6 hours, when a vote to end a filibuster could be taken. It takes a supermajority of 33 of the of the 49 senators to stop the delay tactic and force and up-or-down vote on a bill.

The bill seeks to change Nebraska's public records law so state officials could legally withhold information related to the identity of an individual or business that "manufactures, supplies, compounds or prescribes" execution drugs. Drug secrecy laws are on the books in 15 of the 31 states with the death penalty, Kuehn said.

The courts have generally ruled against inmates who've challenged the secrecy laws. Kuehn said he patterned his bill after the law in Georgia, which was upheld by that state's Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision in 2014.

He said only the maker of the drugs would be shielded. Information about the types, dosages and testing results of the drugs to be used in an execution would still be disclosed to the condemned inmate.

Anti-death penalty activists have harassed and threatened drug manufacturers and pharmacists willing to compound the substances for execution purposes, Kuehn argued. As a result, many drugmakers no longer consent to the use of their products in prison death chambers.

Another consequence of the activism has been to make some types of anesthetic drugs, once widely used in surgeries and other medical procedures, impossible or difficult to obtain in the United States and other countries. Kuehn called it hypocritical of activists to endanger the health and lives of the innocent to protect the lives of those on death row.

"When we weigh the value of that public record, what is the question of cost," he asked his colleagues.

Chambers said that a state execution represents the "ceremonial destruction of the life of a citizen" and that all aspects of it should be open to public scrutiny. He mentioned how in 2015, the Department of Correctional Services paid a foreign broker named Chris Harris $54,400 for 2 lethal substances it never received.

Because the department was required to disclose the broker's name, however, the public learned Harris was the same businessman who a Swiss manufacture had accused of using lying to obtain a lethal drug he then sold to Nebraska in 2011.

"This bill ... is designed to deprive the public of information it ought to have about how its government is carrying out the most solemn, most consequential act a government can perform," Chambers said.

Other supporters of the secrecy bill, however, argued the measure should pass in response to the November election, in which 61 % of Nebraska voters reversed the 2015 repeal of capital punishment.

"The death penalty is something the state of Nebraska needs to have, and we need to have the ability to carry it out," said Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, April 20, 2017

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