By Paul Weber
Associated Press via Laredo Morning Times
Originally published April 15, 2015
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Saying that executions in Texas are becoming “increasingly difficult to carry out,” state officials Wednesday urged lawmakers to send Republican Gov. Greg Abbott a bill that would prevent even death row inmates from knowing the identity of lethal injection drug suppliers.
The debate in the Legislature took place just hours before the sixth person this year was set to die in Texas, where the nation’s busiest death chamber is again running low on inventory.
The office of Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton told a Texas House committee that execution drug manufacturers won’t sell to the state anymore unless their identities are kept completely confidential. Suppliers have reported being threatened by death penalty opponents and say they won’t take the risk.
Attorneys for death row inmates are pressing Republicans to at least make supplier names available to them, saying their clients have a right to scrutinize the companies making the drugs that will end their lives.
But state officials say drug suppliers are scared off by even that prospect.
“We cannot support that compromise,” said Adrienne McFarland, a prosecutor with the Texas attorney general’s office.
A court challenge is already currently barring Texas from disclosing its supplier. That came after state investigators determined there had been a credible threat of violence against an execution drug maker.
Last year, The Associated Press reported that Texas officials have offered scant evidence to support their claim that compounding pharmacies supplying the state with execution drugs would be in danger of violence if their identities were made public. The AP has found no evidence of any investigations in Texas into threats against such companies.
But even Republicans who ran on promises to increase government transparency questioned why the public needs to know who’s making the drugs.
“It’s just not worth the risk of personal violence and other retaliation that may occur,” said Republican John Smithee, who is carrying the bill.
The bill did not immediately receive a vote, and its prospects for passage are unclear, even in a Legislature that overwhelmingly supports capital punishment.
As Texas’ attorney general for a decade, Abbott had long argued that the benefits of government transparency outweighed the Department of Criminal Justice’s desire to keep information secret about its execution-drug supplier. But last year, months before being elected to governor, Abbott changed course while citing the undisclosed threats.
“We’re talking about the ultimate punishment for a crime in our state. So the citizens really need the information,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Counting Wednesday’s scheduled execution, Texas is only three executions away from having to replenish its inventory of pentobarbital or find a new chemical.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to carry out executions, which is to say carry out state law, because a critical member of the state’s execution team is under threat,” McFarland said.