House advances bill to keep secret lethal drug vendors

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Burl Cain, warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, left, listens during testimony Tuesday on legislation that would keep secret the drugs used to execute inmates. State Rep. Joe LoPinto III, R-Metairie, center, sponsored the bill, which also was supported by Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Show caption
Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Burl Cain, warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, left, listens during testimony Tuesday on legislation that would keep secret the drugs used to execute inmates. State Rep. Joe LoPinto III, R-Metairie, center, sponsored the bill, which also was supported by Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

A Louisiana House committee advanced legislation Tuesday that would shroud executions in secrecy amid nationwide problems with lethal injection drugs.

House Bill 328’s sponsor, state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, told the House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs that the legislation is necessary to ensure a supply chain for executions. Louisiana, like other states, is encountering difficulties in making purchases from drug suppliers.

Under HB328, the name, address, qualifications and other identifying information of any person or entity that manufactures, compounds, prescribes, dispenses, supplies or administers the drugs or supplies utilized in an execution would be confidential.

The bill initially would have brought back the electric chair but was revamped.

“This puts an exception in the public records request from, I guess, Joe Blow Citizen to say I want to know where you’re getting your drugs from so I can go put pressure,” Lopinto said, referring to European drug manufacturers’ clampdown on the use of their products in execution chambers.

By promising anonymity to the seller, the hope is that drug manufacturers won’t discover the destination of their drugs.

“This is not about being secret. This is about protecting the suppliers,” state Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said.

Lake Charles defense lawyer Walter Sanchez said the bill would make the death penalty process too secret.

“This is not the solution,” he said.

Sanchez questioned what would happen if a compounding pharmacy ineptly or purposely mismanufactured a lethal drug.

He said not even a grand jury could scrutinize what went wrong were the bill to become state law.

In what is widely seen as a botched procedure, condemned killer Clayton Lockett mumbled and moved after Oklahoma attempted to execute him last month. Lockett ultimately died of a heart attack. Louisiana pushed back legal arguments on its next scheduled execution after the Oklahoma incident.

“Oklahoma’s looking into what went wrong. We won’t have that (option) in Louisiana,” Sanchez said.

Lopinto countered that condemned killers are on death row because they committed heinous crimes.

He said they reach the execution chamber only after they’ve exhausted all of their appeals. “We’re not talking about guilt or innocence at this point,” he said.

The committee voted, without objection, to advance HB328 to the full House.

Also Tuesday, Lopinto filed House Resolution No. 136 asking the Jindal administration to study different methods of execution, including firing squads, inert gas, electrocution, hanging and lethal injection to determine the most humane administration of the death penalty. A report would be due by Jan. 1.