A bill to protect the confidentiality of individuals or companies involved in the distribution or manufacture of lethal injection drugs on death row went through hours of debate Thursday.LB 661, introduced by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, is also known as a "shield law" to protect anyone involved in the manufacturing of lethal injection drugs from threats or persecution.
"Keeping the identity of manufacturers confidential to ensure access of these drugs, to prevent further drugs from being removed from the market, to ensure safe medication to all citizens, is the greater good," Kuehn said.
Other states with similar shield laws include Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio. Many others, such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, have also tried to implement this type of shield law.
According to the bill's proponents, states with the death penalty have difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs from domestic suppliers.
Suppliers don't want the bad publicity of being associated with manufacturing and distributing these drugs. This results in states having to shop other countries for the drugs.
Nebraska bought a lethal injection drug in 2015 called sodium thiopental, from Harris Pharma, a distributor in India. The Food and Drug Administration said Nebraska could not legally import the drug and the shipment never made it to the state.
Opponents of the bill said confidentiality would inhibit accountability for companies who make the drugs.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha was particularly against full anonymity for such companies.
Chambers, a well-known opponent of the death penalty, used his time to speak against the death penalty. However, he also spoke against hiding the identity of lethal injection drug manufacturers.
"We all know good and well why it's important to know the source of something," Chambers said. "If these bad drugs continue to show up, you need to trace it back and find the compounding pharmacy that's responsible."
Chambers was referring to the possibility the drug might be proven cruel or ineffective. People would need to know where it came from to hold that person or company responsible.
Nebraska voters decided last year to reinstate the death penalty, after the Legislature narrowly repealed it the year before. Legislators in support of LB 661, like Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, said the proposed shield legislation would let capital punishment work for the Nebraskans who voted it back in.
"I believe in justice," Groene said. "I believe in punishing evil that exists in this world."
Groene said anonymity would allow the state to be able to obtain, and if necessary, use the death penalty drugs again.
Nebraska has not used capital punishment since 1997.
There was no vote or action taken on the bill.