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Idaho House passes bill granting confidentiality in executions

The rotunda at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The rotunda at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Identities of lethal injection drug suppliers and manufacturers would become secret under House Bill 658

The Idaho House of Representatives voted Thursday to pass a bill that would give confidentiality to the suppliers and manufacturers of lethal injection drugs.

The House voted 38-30 to pass House Bill 658. If it becomes law, the bill would give confidentiality to any person or business who “compounds, synthesizes, tests, sells, supplies, manufactures, stores, transports, procures, dispenses, or prescribes the chemicals or substances for use in an execution or that provides the medical supplies or medical equipment for the execution process.”

The on-site physician and any members of the medical or escort teams for executions would also be given confidentiality under the bill. The bill would also prevent the confidential information from being released in court filings and documents as well.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said the state will no longer be able to carry out lethal injections without offering companies and individuals the confidentiality protection included in the bill. Chaney said death penalty opponents have obtained information about the companies supplying lethal injection drugs and chemicals and used that information to “name and shame” the providers and participants to the point they aren’t willing to publicly participate in executions.

“As a functional matter, a ‘no’ vote on this ends the death penalty in Idaho; only firing squad and lethal injection are in our constitution as appropriate means of execution,” Chaney said.

During a public hearing on the bill Feb. 17, Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt testified that the state is not able to obtain the drugs necessary to carry out an execution.

“As I stand in front of you, I can attest that the state does not have the material ability to carry out an execution,” Tewalt said. “We have been unable to secure the necessary chemicals and potential suppliers have expressed concern that the language in our administrative rule is insufficient to protect their identities.”

Chaney said 19 of the 27 states that allow the death penalty have similar shield laws in place.

House members were divided over the bill, with opponents saying the public has a right to know who is providing the drugs to carry out lethal injections and what the company or manufacturer’s track record is. Opponents also worried about the state adding more secrecy to the death penalty process.

“The government shouldn’t have the right to kill people using secret means, methods and practices,” Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said.

During last week’s public hearing, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and the Idaho Press Club came out against the bill, saying the public has the right to information about executions that are funded by taxpayers.

Idaho death row inmate says use of lethal injection drug is cruel and unusual punishment

Idaho’s use of lethal injection has come under scrutiny recently.

Last June, death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto requested to be executed by firing squad instead of by the lethal injection drug pentobarbital. Pizzuto, who has been on death row for more than 35 years after being convicted of murdering two people in Idaho County, is terminally ill with cancer. He argued the drug pentobarbital would be too hard on him given his medical history and, therefore, violate the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Capital Sun have previously reported.

Additionally, public records and court documents from a lawsuit filed by University of Idaho law professor Aliza Cover have revealed more about how the state obtained lethal injection drugs for a 2012 execution. Tewalt, who was then deputy chief with the Bureau of Prisons, took a state chartered flight to Tacoma, Washington, in May 2012. Tewalt and Idaho Department of Correction then-director Kevin Kempf carried up to $15,000 in cash in a suitcase, which they exchanged for lethal injection drugs supplied by a Tacoma pharmacy in a meeting that went down in a Walmart parking lot, the Idaho Press reported.

Tewalt responded to coverage of the 2012 trip to Tacoma last week. He pointed out the details were allegations that were part of a lawsuit and he stressed that the lethal injection drugs were obtained, tested, verified and administered legally.

In the end, the bill passed by a close 38-30 margin on Thursday following a short debate.

To become law, House Bill 658 still needs to pass the Idaho Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Brad Little or allowed to become law without Little’s signature.

Disclosure: Reporter Clark Corbin and other Idaho Capital Sun reporters are members of the Idaho Press Club.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.