Ohio passes bill clouding execution process

In Ohio, 138 men on Death Row await execution in Lucasville, Ohio, above, with the lone woman sitting on death row in Marysville.

In Ohio, 138 men on Death Row await execution in Lucasville, Ohio, above, with the lone woman sitting on death row in Marysville.

Ohio will add secrecy to executions of death row inmates next March 20 — assuming the governor signs a bill passed yesterday.

The measure will allow the state to keep private the names of companies that make drugs used for executions, along with medical personnel who administer the drugs.
Supporters of the bill said the state needed to provide confidentially in order to obtain the drugs. Like other states with capital punishment, Ohio has had difficulty obtaining drugs for lethal injections, with manufacturers worried about negative public reaction to their participation in the process.
Opponents — including SPJ — argued against the bill as limiting transparency around executions.
While Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign the bill next week, the debate could go on. “Prosecutors who want a condemned child killer executed in February say the legislation will undoubtedly lead to court challenges, and they’re confident the procedure won’t happen as scheduled,” the Associated Press reported.
One other silver lining: The bill went through with an amendment calling for the law to be “sunset” after two years. During that time, a study committee will consider issues addressed in the bill — and others related to capital punishment. Sen. John Ecklund, R-Chardon, chair of the Ohio Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the study committee can recommend anything it wishes, including an end to the Ohio’s death penalty, according to the Hannah Report, a newsletter that covers the Ohio Statehouse.
Ohio has scheduled 11 executions for the next two years, with the first set for Feb. 11. The state carried out just one execution in 2014 — the fewest since 2001, according to Ohioans to Stop Executions. Because of the drug protocol used in that procedure, it went badly and prompted a federal judge to impose a de facto moratorium on executions for the balance of the year.
Thanks to former SPJ national president Kevin Smith, now with the Ohio State University’s Kiplinger Center for Public Affairs Reporting, for presenting SPJ’s concerns about the bill at two hearings. Thanks, too, to President Dana Neuts and the SPJ communications office (Jennifer Royer and Taylor Carlier) for issuing statements on the matter over the last month.
Stay tuned: The fight for transparency on this (literal) life-and-death issue is not over. It could very well be back in the headlines in February, when Ohio moves Ronald Phillips to the “Death House” in Lucasville.


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