SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to reinstate Utah’s firing squad as a backup execution method easily passed in a Senate committee Monday.
The bill advances closer to becoming law, but not without the committee making an official motion to submit a request to take up the issue of the death penalty after the legislative session.
HB11 would legalize firing squad executions in Utah if drugs needed for lethal injections aren’t available 30 days before the date of the death warrant, which would add to current Utah law that allows the firing squad if lethal injection executions ever become unconstitutional, said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.
Utah may require a backup method to lethal injections, Ray said, in wake of recent botched executions that have lead to a U.S. Supreme Court case that may cause lethal injections to become unconstitutional.
He said Utah potentially faces the same costly litigation risks if the state continues to carry out lethal injections, as drugs previously used for lethal injections have become unavailable because European pharmaceutical companies that sell the drugs oppose the death penalty and refuse to sell to U.S. prisons, Ray said.
Anti-death penalty groups spoke against the bill, saying the Legislature should instead be spending its time having serious discussions about the moral issue of the death penalty itself, especially as it considers moving the state prison.
“That’s the only way that we’ll ensure we won’t be back here over and over engaging in what is ultimately a doomed effort of deciding on a decent way for the government to kill people,” said Anna Brower, public policy advocate with American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said the purpose of HB11 is not to change the Utah law regarding to death penalty.
“The fact of the matter is that is the law, and if we don’t like it then that is a separate conversation to have,” Thatcher said. “What we shouldn’t be doing is allowing a manufacturer of a product to tell the state of Utah that because they don’t like our policy they will deny us the product and use that to get around existing law.”
Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, proposed a motion for legislative leadership to address Utah’s death penalty during the upcoming interim session. The proposal passed with one dissenting vote from Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who said the motion would just “clog up” the system with another “misfit bill” that no lawmaker wants to address.
Davis said Utah’s death penalty is an appropriate issue that an interim committee needs to debate.
“If we can’t get those cocktails, then we need to change the law,” he said. “And it’s looking like we cannot get those cocktails anymore — not without horrendous side effects.”
The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-1 to favorably recommend HB11 to the full Senate. Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, was the sole dissenting vote.
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