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Full legislature approves lethal drug cocktail shield bill

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Rep. Pat Maney

Rep. Pat Maney

The Legislature has signed off on a public records exemption that sponsors say is needed to protect Florida’s supply of lethal injection drugs.

The Senate voted 28-10 on March 7 to approve HB 873 by Rep. Patt Maney, R-Ft. Walton Beach. Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Pensacola, sponsored the Senate companion, SB 1204.

Broxson noted that Florida and all but one of the other death penalty states use lethal injection. He said that when he recently toured Death Row, he was surprised to see that the electric chair remains in place.

“I said, ‘Why is this still here?’” Broxson said. “The fact is, if you vote against this bill, you are insisting that the DOC use a method that we’ve gone away from.”

A public records exemption shields the name of the executioner and others involved in the procedure to protect against potential harassment from death penalty opponents.

But, according to a staff analysis, “because the exemption does not explicitly exempt manufacturers and retailers that are the source of the drugs and equipment used in lethal injections, it is unclear how a court would interpret such exemption.”

The analysis states that the exemption would protect a supplier from “embarrassment” and “potential loss of business.”

But critics argue that the measure would shield rogue distributors who supply death penalty drugs despite a manufacturers’ ban on using their products for lethal injection.

Florida law gives prisoners the option to choose lethal injection or electrocution and critics argue that the Legislature would have to approve a new method if lethal injection was no longer an option.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, argued that Florida should have “the most transparent process in the nation” because executions are irreversible. Earlier in debate, Brandes identified himself as a “pro-life” legislator and death penalty opponent.

“If there is one place that we should provide complete transparency, it’s in executions,” he said. “We should not have to do some back-room deal…to get the drugs necessary to put somebody to death.”

But Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami and a former prosecutor, warned that defeating the measure would only create more delays in executions and throw Florida’s 321 Death Row inmates in “limbo.”

The bill is just another “balancing test,” Pizzo said.

“I think we could have done a better and different job sourcing drugs from somewhere else, but that’s where we are,” he said.

During floor debate, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, quoted a newspaper article describing another state’s failed attempt to secure its supply of the drug by enacting a public records exemption.

“Texas passed a law in 2015, but the Texas Tribune reports that they maintain their supply not by secrecy, but by extending the expiration date of the drugs that they have on supply,” he said.

Maney urged House members to set aside their feelings about the death penalty and focus instead on the content of the bill.

“Sometimes, simple facts confound the wise, and I think that might be what’s happening today,” he said. “Voting for this bill will allow the Department of Corrections to have access to the drugs it needs to carry out the law — it’s that simple.”

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