Legislation that would keep the names of execution drug providers secret is headed to the governor’s office after the Texas House gave final approval on Tuesday to a Senate measure.
Senate Bill 1697, authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and sponsored in the House by state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, would make information about anyone who participates in the execution procedure – including those who manufacture, supply, transport and administer execution drugs – confidential and unavailable through public records requests.
Supporters of the bill, which passed with a 99-45 vote, said that the measure was necessary to protect companies that handle the drugs from threats and possible attacks.
"Almost none of the manufacturers of companies will sell this drug to Texas or any state right now because of threats of violence, fire bombings and other threats of violence, and that's not right," said Smithee, speaking to the House ahead of the vote. "This bill is about trying to protect innocent people who are just doing their job."
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In 2013, after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced it had obtained doses of pentobarbital – the drug used for lethal injections – from the Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy near Houston, the pharmacy owner, Jasper Lovoi, complained that publicizing the transaction resulted in hate mail and phone calls.
"Had I known that this information would be made public, which the State implied it would not, I never would have agreed to provide the drugs to the TDCJ," Lovoi wrote in a 2013 letter to the state agency.
But not everyone is convinced of the bill's merits. State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, a defense attorney, said that the measure would set a dangerous precedent while giving unneeded protection to private companies.
"At what point do you think that liberty and right of people to know information is trumped by corporate interests and safety?" Canales said, questioning Smithee. "If any state is going to put you to death, I think it’s your right to know who made the drug that is going to kill you."
Canales joins other defense attorneys who have expressed concerns about the fact that they will no longer be able to access information about the drugs.
"It is a balancing act and a balancing process," Smithee said. "When you balance the advantages of public disclosure against the dangers of public disclosure, the danger of public disclosure wins."
Terri Langford contributed to this report.