BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana would offer confidentiality to anyone who helps facilitate an execution, if lawmakers agree to a measure that edged forward Wednesday in the House, a proposal aimed at restarting capital punishment after years of stalled lethal injections.
The legislation by Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, a Republican from Hammond, would shield information about the person or company that manufactures, supplies, transports, prescribes or compounds drugs, medical supplies or equipment for an execution.
The House criminal justice committee advanced the public records exemption without objection, sending it to the full House for consideration.
Louisiana’s last lethal injection was in 2010. Seventy condemned inmates are awaiting execution. The corrections department says it can’t obtain lethal injection drugs because companies don’t want their products associated with executions.
Muscarello said by offering those companies or suppliers confidentiality the state would be giving victims’ families “the justice they deserve.”
“This bill is not about whether the death penalty is right or wrong,” he said.
That debate is continuing separately, with another measure seeking to abolish the death penalty that awaits debate on the Senate floor.
The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, which wants to end capital punishment in the state, opposed Muscarello’s proposal, saying the state needs to be open about its processes to ensure executions are performed in a just manner.
“An increase in transparency and accountability in how Louisiana administers this particular punishment, considering it is the most severe punishment, is critically important,” said Rob Tasman, executive director for the bishops conference. “This is dealing with nothing less than life itself.”
Muscarello said 13 other states have similar laws on the books, but critics questioned whether the measure would make it impossible to get information if an execution is botched.
“The drug companies do not want to provide the drugs because they’re scared” about strikes or other retaliatory measures, Muscarello said.
Rep. Barbara Norton, a Shreveport Democrat, replied: “Why don’t we use someone that’s not afraid?”
Before the committee advanced the proposal, lawmakers added language suggesting it should be construed as broadly as possible to ensure confidentiality.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has said he “would be inclined to sign the bill” if it reaches his desk. No one from the Edwards administration testified Wednesday about the legislation, which is backed by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office.
Capital punishment is a flashpoint between Edwards and Landry, with the attorney general saying Edwards doesn’t appear interested in finding ways to carry out death sentences.
The disagreement stems from a July federal court order prohibiting Louisiana from carrying out any death sentences until mid-2019.
The Edwards administration asked for the extension, citing trouble getting lethal injection drugs. Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration described similar difficulties.
In response to the Edwards administration extension request, Landry’s office said it was withdrawing from defending the corrections department against the lawsuit challenging its lethal injection protocols.