SALT LAKE CITY – A bill that would allow Utah to use a firing squad as a form of execution if drugs for lethal injection are not available passed the state Senate Tuesday night. The bill awaits the governor’s signature to become law.
House Bill 11, authored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, passed the Senate in an 18-10 vote. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, was the Senate sponsor.
Ray’s bill would enable the state to use a firing squad as an alternative to lethal injection if the drug cocktail needed for an execution is not available 30 or more days prior to the date specified on a death warrant.
The drug cocktail needed for lethal injection has been in short supply as European pharmaceutical companies that previously sold the drugs to states now refuse to, as an objection to capital punishment.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s office issued a statement concerning the passage of the bill, noting the governor will not sign any bill until he’s had a chance to review and evaluate it.
In the state of Utah, aggravated murder is a crime punishable by death. This is a sentence that was determined to be appropriate for crimes where a life was taken in an especially heinous and aggravated manner and was enacted by our Legislature with the support of their constituents … Our statute is clear that lethal injection is the method by which that will happen. We have no intent to change that.
However, the governor’s office also noted that obtaining the drugs needed for lethal injection are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, as they are for many states overall.
We are dedicated to pursuing all reasonable and legal options to obtain those substances to make sure that, when required, we are in a position to carry out this very serious sentence by lethal injection. However, if those substances cannot be obtained, this proposal would make sure that those instructed to carry out the lawful order of the court and the carefully deliberated decision of the jury can do so.
Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, who voted against HB 11, said he wished the bill did away with the death penalty rather than simply offered an alternative as to how it is carried out. Davis’ sentiment was shared by others during the debate in the House Feb. 13.
“I refuse to vote ‘yes’ on a bill that gives a tool to carry out the death penalty,” Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said before the House voted. The death penalty disproportionately affects people along racial and socioeconomic lines, she said.
“First of all, this bill is not a debate on whether or not we have the death penalty … ,” Ray said to the House. “The state of Utah has adopted a death penalty and in doing so we have to have a means in which to carry it out.”
The bill passed the House in a 39-34 vote.
Ed. Note: Representing Southern Utah districts: Sens. Evan Vickers, Steve Urquhart, David Hinkins, and Ralph Oakerland each voted in favor of HB 11.
In the House’s Feb. 13’s vote: Reps. Brad Last, Don Ipson, Michael Noel, and John Westwood voted in favor of the bill; Reps. V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard voted against the bill; and Rep. Merrill Nelson did not vote on the bill.
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