New Bill to Protect Identity of Death Penalty Lethal Cocktail Manufacturers Approved by the House

March 6, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Florida’s use of capital punishment has a long and troubling history. To read about Florida’s death penalty timeline and recent decisions, read our blog post here. Now, new moves are being made in the realm of Florida’s capital punishment. The House gave preliminary approval on March 1st to House Bill 873. This bill would provide an exemption from public records requirements for information or records that could lead to the identification of a party or player in Florida’s capital punishment lethal cocktail scheme. As of right now, Florida lets inmates choose between lethal injection and electrocution for their executions. Proponents of this bill claim that a public records exemption for suppliers helping to craft Florida’s death penalty cocktail is necessary in order to ensure Florida has access to the drugs necessary so Floridian capital inmates won’t be forced to face electrocution without any other option.

What Does the Bill Say?

According to the filed language of the bill, if enacted, HB 873 would amend Florida Statute Section 945.10 and provide:

[A]n exemption from public records requirements for information or records that identify or could reasonably lead to the identification of any person or entity that participates in an execution; provid[e] for retroactive application; provid[e] for future legislative review and repeal of the exemption; providing a statement of public necessity; provid[e] an effective date.

Additionally, the bill’s text states:

(1) Except as otherwise provided by law or in this section, the following records and information held by the Department of Corrections are confidential and exempt from the provisions of s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution:

(j)(1) Information or records that identify or could reasonably lead to the identification of any person or entity that participates in, has participated in or will participate in an execution, including persons or entities administering, compounding, dispensing, distributing, maintaining, manufacturing, ordering, preparing, prescribing, providing, purchasing, or supplying drugs, chemicals, supplies, or equipment necessary to conduct an execution in compliance with chapter 922.

The Bill’s Timeline

The bill was originally filed on December 8, 2021, by Patt Maney, a Republican Representative of District 4. In January, the bill was sent to the various subcommittees, such as the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, the Government Operations Subcommittee, and the Judiciary Committee. On March 2nd, it passed the House with a vote of 84 – 32 and was sent to the Senate.

The Senate version of the bill – SB 1204 – followed the same timeline. On February 15, 2022, it was voted “favorable” by 9 – 6. It is now placed on the special-order calendar. The bill is identical to the House version.

Why Is This Bill Controversial?

This bill is facing a lot of opposition from organizations like Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the First Amendment Foundation, the Orlando Sentinel, and even the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. The main reason for this opposition is the threat of a complete lack of transparency. This legislation is being pushed by the Department of Corrections in order to prohibit any information about Florida’s purchase and use of the drugs used in death penalty executions from being released. This means the public will not have access to this information, the media will not have access to the information, and even pharmaceutical companies will be left in the dark. Additionally, as Representative Carlos Guillermo-Smith, a Democratic Winter Park representative warns, this bill would “prevent the public from holding suppliers accountable.”

Sponsors of the bill say its purpose is to “make sure that the Department of Corrections can carry out its statutory responsibility.” Furthermore, they say it is necessary to keep this information hidden in order to protect those involved with Florida’s executions from “harassment, intimidation, and physical harm.” What does this really come down to? According to the bill’s supporters – “negative publicity and the resulting loss of business.”

Now that the Bill has Been Approved by the House, What’s Next?

The House has now “agreed to extend a public records exemption to shield manufacturers of the lethal drug cocktail used in Florida executions.” When pressed about why his colleagues should vote favorably on the bill, Maney stated that “[v]oting for this bill will allow the Department of Corrections to have access to the drugs it needs to carry out the law – it’s that simple.” Rep. Guillermo-Smith, who previously warned of the dangers of this bill, surprisingly agreed with Maney’s principle that this is not a moral stance on the death penalty, stating that the bill is not “about whether you support or oppose the death penalty.” It is about “defeating oversight of the effectiveness of the drugs and the public has the constitutional right to know about the safety records of the suppliers of these drugs.”

Unfortunately for the bill’s proponents, similar laws in other states have not solved their death penalty drug supply challenges. According to Guillermo-Smith, “Texas passed a law in 2015, but the Texas Tribune reports that they maintain their supply not by secrecy, but by extending the expiration date of the drugs that they have on supply.”

What’s Next?

HB 873’s companion bill, SB 1204 awaits a final vote on the Senate calendar. 


Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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