The Mississippi Senate passed Senate Bill 2237, which will prevent the names of death row inmates from being released to the public on March 1.
The execution secrecy bill would protect the identities of the executioners, those being executed, pharmacy suppliers of the lethal injection drugs and others involved in the execution process.
Although the bill passed 32-18, it was held for further debate before moving to the House.
According to the bill, anyone who releases secret information, such as the name of a pharmaceutical supplier, could be sued for damages. People in the execution process who are protected from public disclosure include former and current state execution team members, current and former drug suppliers and witnesses who request to remain anonymous.
Committee Chairman Sean Tindell said protecting the identities of those involved is necessary.
Tindell said a proposed amendment would reveal the drug suppliers but would protect the identity of the Mississippi’s in-state pharmacy. He said the pharmacy makes the drugs as an alternative to other drug providers, which are often hesitant to provide the lethal medication.
State Attorney General Jim Hood helped draft the legislation and said it was his duty to protect those involved in the capital punishment process.
“If there’s a method by which I can carry it out without people getting abused, the executioner, the pharmacy that provides the drugs, I think we owe them that protection,” Hood said.
Anti-death penalty advocates have threatened executioners and companies that provide the lethal drugs, calling them “murderers.”
“We’ve had honest, hard- working Mississippi residents who have refused to work on the execution team because of fear for the safety of their families and concerns about retaliation inside and outside the prison,” Hood said. “As long as we have the death penalty in Mississippi, we have a responsibility to protect the state employees who assist in carrying out executions. The businesses that agree to supply lethal injection drugs must also be free from the intimidation and strong- arm tactics of some anti-death penalty activists.”
Some opposed to the execution secrecy legislation believe the execution process would be completely kept from the public. Opponents suspect the execution process could be performed inhumanely and believe restraining reporters and other witnesses from reporting names could infringe on First Amendment rights, which guarantee freedom of speech and publication.
“I would not want a family member to know that I supply the drugs,” Rep. Forrest Hamilton, a pharmacist, told the Associated Press.
Jim Craig, a lawyer suing the state on behalf of some death- row inmates, disputes claims that any person or business has been threatened. The state has not introduced any evidence to that effect in court.
“If we’re going to be in the business of putting people to death, there needs to be as much openness as possible,” said Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association.
Arkansas and Georgia adopted similar bills in recent years. The Mississippi law could affect an ongoing court case, the decision of which could compel the Mississippi Department of Corrections to release details about its execution process and drug supplier.
The Mississippi Supreme Court opened to arguments in November but has not made a decision on a lawsuit that aims to force the state to divulge information about the execution drugs supplier. The state appealed the decision of a lower court judge who ruled for disclosure as a public record in March.
Tindell believes family members of victims and the condemned deserve privacy when witnessing an execution.
“I think it’s important to the victim’s family and the condemned’s family,” Tindell told the Associated Press. “Those people don’t want to have their names plastered all over the newspaper.”
Hood said he supported the restriction out of respect for the families of murder victims, and restraints on publication before the bill’s effect are unconstitutional.