The Senate on Thursday passed House Bill 1879, by Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, by a vote of 41-0. The measure comes after last year’s execution of Clayton Lockett using a new, three-drug drug protocol.
The execution has been called a “procedural disaster” by an appellate court and thrust the state into the national spotlight after the inmate spent 43 minutes on the gurney before dying.
House Bill 1879 says that if lethal injection is held unconstitutional or otherwise unavailable, the execution should be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia.
Christian said the use of nitrogen gas is practical, efficient and humane.
“The process is fast and painless,” Christian said. “In fact, it is so painless that a person will pass out before they recognize they are in danger.”
Nitrogen gas has not been used to carry out an execution in the United States.
The measure retains lethal injection, electrocution and firing squads as forms of allowable executions.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but we all know — and I think everyone here would agree — that lethal injection is on its way out,” Christian said. “It has become experimental.”
Oklahoma switched to a new drug in the three-drug cocktail after the original drug because unavailable. A lawsuit challenging the state’s new three-drug method is pending.
“Today, we are sending a message to the U.S. Supreme Court and the rest of the world that the people of Oklahoma realize that we have a problem and the people of Oklahoma have found a solution,” Christian said.
Christian said he expects other states to follow Oklahoma’s lead.
Meanwhile, the House on Thursday passed Senate Joint Resolution 31 by Sykes and Christian that would let people vote to affirm that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment and that execution methods may be designated by the Legislature.
The measure passed by a vote of 80-10.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said the measure was the authors’ way of reaffirming the state’s position that Oklahomans are supportive of the death penalty, but it didn’t have any real significant legal effect.
“I do not think there is any danger whatsoever of the death penalty being overturned in Oklahoma, nor even at the federal level,” Inman said.
Sykes said he expects the constitutional amendment to overwhelmingly pass a vote of the people in November 2016.
That measure does not need Fallin’s signature, Sykes said.
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