Ohio has had a long and problematic history with capital punishment. It has executed 393 convicted murderers in its history, first via hanging, then in the electric chair and since 1993 with lethal injection. Put out of the death business in 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional, Ohio made the practice legal in the state again in 1981. Since actually resuming executions in 1999, Ohio’s practices have sparked constant controversy.
Finally in 2011, Ohio’s Supreme Court assembled a task force to investigate those controversies, issuing a report in April with a range of sound recommendations.
Now comes House Bill 663 – the so-called Secret Executions Bill – that would make the already difficult job of covering capital punishment more difficult.
The bill would allow the state to keep secret “information and records that relate in any manner to the execution of a death sentence and that are made confidential, privileged, and not subject to disclosure under the bill’s nondisclosure provisions,” according to an analysis by the non-partisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
While the bill is aimed at banning the public from learning what drugs Ohio uses for executions, who provides them and who administers them, the broad language – prohibiting release of “information … in any manner” related to those topics– flies in the face of Ohio’s sunshine laws.
More specifically, the bill would make secret information about lethal injection formulations just as Ohio grapples with critical decisions about how to carry out executions while avoiding cruel and unusual treatment of condemned inmates. Ohio, recall, has botched four executions in recent years, mostly recently last January when its newest “drug cocktail” took 25 minutes to kill inmate Dennis McGuire.
In reaction to the McGuire case, the state said it would change its drug protocol – again – and U.S. District Judge Greg Frost put a moratorium on executions through January.
HB663 threatens to put capital punishments behind the curtain at a time when transparency could not be more essential.
Ohio has scheduled 11 executions through the end of 2016. Another 128 Death Row inmates await their execution dates.
As long as Ohio law still allows for the death penalty – and legislative efforts to repeal the practice routinely fail – journalists must be allowed to report fully and fairly on how the state applies the death penalty in all of those cases.
The Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee will conduct its second hearing on the bill Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. in room 115 of the statehouse in Columbus. A third hearing – and possible vote – will follow on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at 3:30 p.m. in the same place. The bill, introduced less than two weeks ago on Nov. 10, would become law March 20 if passed.
Now is the time for journalists – and anyone committed to transparency on this issue – to weigh in.
Here are your options:
- Contact bill sponsors Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, at 614-466-6344 or www.ohiohouse.gov/jim-buchy and Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, at 614-466-9624 or www.ohiohouse.gov/matt-huffman.
- Contact other members of the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, listed at http://www.ohiohouse.gov/committee/policy-and-legislative-oversight
- Sign a petition against the bill, drafted by Ohioans to Stop the Death Penalty, at www.otse.org.
- Show up at the Statehouse hearings this week.