Bill to hide execution chemical supplier identity passes House

The House of Representatives passed H 658 on Feb. 24, 2022, in a 38-30 vote. It now moves to the Senate.

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

After a short debate, the Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill in a 38-30 vote that would grant confidentiality to suppliers of chemicals used in executions. 

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, sponsored HB 658, in an effort to make lethal injection chemicals more accessible to the Idaho Department of Correction. The bill would shield the identity of those chemical suppliers from public records requests. 

In Idaho, the only form of legal execution is lethal injection. IDOC Director Josh Tewalt told a legislative committee on Feb. 17 that the state has not been able to secure the chemicals needed to carry out an execution. 

Chaney stressed that as long as execution is a form of sentencing in Idaho, the state must be able to obtain the chemicals needed to carry out the sentence. IDOC does not impose sentences, but it is tasked with carrying out the sentence.

“There is no supplier to supply the lethal injection drugs to carry out an execution unless we have protections for their identity, specifically because of this approach of using naming and shaming to functionally repeal the death penalty,” Chaney said.

Capital punishment is the only sentence that is recommended by jurors, rather than a judge, in Idaho. It is only used in first-degree murder cases. 

Chaney said 27 states still use the death penalty. Of those, 19 have shield laws similar to the one he proposed. 

“As a functional matter, a no vote on this ends death penalty in Idaho,” Chaney said. 

Chaney said the state could, in theory, bring back the firing squad, but added current execution protocols are the result of “years and years” of litigation.

Additionally, he said IDOC “isn’t at all eager to participate in current protocols, let alone the more gruesome process of a firing squad.”

Discussion on executions came to the forefront in Idaho in recent months after Gerald Pizzuto Jr., narrowly avoided execution in June. Pizzuto has been on death row in Idaho for more than 35 years for the 1985 deaths of Berta and Delbert Herndon. 

Pizzuto’s execution is temporarily stayed while court appeals are ongoing. 

In opposition, Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said he took issue with granting anonymity to the manufacturers and trusting the government to carry out an execution. 

“I do not trust them to kill people using secret means, methods, practices and chemicals,” Nash said.

The two most recent executions by lethal injection in Idaho were those of Paul Ezra Rhoades in November 2011 and Richard Leavitt in June 2012. At the time of those executions, IDOC did not disclose where the state obtained the drugs or chemicals used. Information about how and where IDOC obtained the chemicals for the executions was released only after a series of court filings.

Should HB 658 become law, the identities of the chemical suppliers would not be admissible as evidence in court, nor would it be discoverable in court, as they were after Rhoades’ and Leavitt’s executions.

Rep. Jim Addis, R-Coeur d’Alene, questioned Chaney about the inability to put identities in a court case. He asked if the supplier was negligent, would they still be able to be held accountable. 

“Does that make this person not liable for what they’ve done?” Addis asked.

“If there is something that is done negligently … it’s the state that’s liable,” Chaney said.

The bill must now go before the Senate for approval. 

There is no pending  legislation regarding use of the firing squad in Idaho. In 2015, Utah reinstated the firing squad as a form of legal execution for people on death row. The state made that decision in part because of the lack of access to execution chemicals used in lethal injection. 

Prior Executions 

A complaint filed in 2020 in federal court raised concerns around how the state purchased the chemicals used in those executions. The complaint alleged IDOC leadership purchased lethal injection drugs with a suitcase full of cash in a Tacoma parking lot in 2012. That case, filed on behalf of two men on Idaho’s death row, claimed the state violated the men’s rights by making plans to execute them “while providing them essentially zero information about its plans on how it will do so.”

The lawsuit accused IDOC of taking a chartered flight and using $15,000 in cash to purchase the chemicals.

When asked about that account last week in a committee, Tewalt neither confirmed nor denied the allegations. 

Instead, he said “Those chemicals were lawfully obtained, they were tested and verified by an independent third party, and they were administered in accordance to the law,”

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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