A number of Nebraska residents attending a public hearing on a proposed new execution protocol questioned the need to keep the source of lethal injection drugs secret.
The Department of Correctional Services held the public hearing Friday at the State Office Building in downtown Lincoln, taking testimony from about 50 people who attended.
The vast majority voiced objections to the proposal to change the protocol for executions, an effort by the Ricketts Administration to overcome obstacles which have kept the state from executing anyone on death row since 1997. Most focused on provisions which shield from public view the source for lethal injection drugs as well as the pharmacist who might compound the drugs.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who sponsored the bill to repeal the death penalty, dismissed the vote which overturned the Unicameral’s action.
“The fact that two-thirds of the people of Nebraska voted to reinstate the death penalty is no surprise to me. When the people are allowed to vote, it’s not always based on intelligence, knowledge, information, but usually emotion,” Chambers said.
State legislators repealed the death penalty in the 2015 legislative session, overcoming a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts. A petition drive began shortly thereafter, placing capital punishment on the ballot in November. Approximately 61% of those voting cast ballots to overturn the Unicameral action and reinstate the death penalty.
Bob Evnen with Nebraskans for the Death Penalty suggested most speaking in opposition during the public hearing weren’t really against the proposed protocol.
“They are here today as part of their ongoing effort to interfere with the humane administration of executions in our state,” according to Evnen. “These efforts should not be rewarded. The voters of Nebraska have spoken on this issue, overwhelmingly in a high-turnout election. Nebraskans have kept the death penalty on the books for the most heinous crimes committed by the most depraved criminals. This decision should be respected.”
Attorney Spike Eickholt, speaking for the Nebraska ACLU, objected to keeping the source of the lethal injection drugs secret, pointing out the state already paid more than $50,000 to Chris Harris of Harris Pharma for lethal injection drugs it has never received. Efforts to get a refund have failed as well.
“Had these protocols been in place, the public would never know. And as some people have indicated, hiding that procurement, keeping that secret, keeping it shrouded is only going to encourage that marginal industry that exists in trafficking in death and death drugs,” Eickholt testified. “Nebraska taxpayers deserve more than that. That’s poor policy.”
Former State Health Director Dr. Gregg Wright said the secrecy provisions could easily be abused.
“So, keeping that completely confidential is just a very scary thing,” Wright said. “It looks to me like a director could buy the drugs in a back alley and doesn’t need to say where he got the drugs.”
Nebraska Pharmacists Association CEO Joni Cover questioned the need to add a pharmacist to the execution team and stated the term “pharmaceutical chemist” is not defined in state statute.
AUDIO: Sen. Ernie Chambers testimony. [9;25]
AUDIO: Bob Evnen with Nebraskans for the Death Penalty. [3:50]