Ohio bill shields identities of execution drug manufacturers, others involved with executions

The Columbus Dispatch reports that a bill was introduced in the Ohio House last week to shield the identities of anyone who makes or sells Ohio's execution drugs, as well as anyone who participates in executions performed by lethal injection. HB 663 also offers protection to doctors who provide expert testimony about the death penalty, prohibiting the medical licensing authority from revoking medical licenses of doctors who offer this testimony. It also voids contracts that prohibit the sale of lethal injection drugs to the state, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The General Assembly found that these measures were necessary to protect these parties to the execution process from "harassment and potential physical harm," and that the department of rehabilitation and correction could not carry out death by lethal injection without providing these protections. According to the Plain Dealer, Ohio ran out of its usual lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, last year and has had trouble securing more since European manufacturers have started refusing to sell it to the U.S. for use in executions. Since then, Ohio has been using a controversial drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone, which has potentially caused significant problems with executions in both Ohio and Arizona, and is currently being challenged in federal court. We discussed some issues related to this in August.

As an alternative to this drug combination Ohio may be able to obtain pentobarbital from smaller compounding pharmacies that could make it to the state's specifications. The bill is designed to protect these pharmacies, along with other parties to the execution process, from public reprisals.

According to the Dispatch, critics of the bill include "the Ohio Public Defender, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the Ohio Newspaper Association (and) Statehouse Democrats..." Opponents cite constitutional concerns with several aspects of the bill, particularly the language that prohibits the disclosure of execution drug information to courts, which, as First Amendment attorney John Greiner claims, may abrogate the powers afforded to courts under the Ohio Constitution. The Plain Dealer also notes that the Ohio Legislative Services Commission raises the issue of whether the bill's ban on contracts prohibiting the sale of the execution drugs violates the Contract Clauses of both the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions.

The bill is still in the Ohio house, where it is expected to be amended in committee proceedings today. For more information about this, see the full text of the bill and the Ohio Legislative Service Commission's analysis.