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Oklahoma Senate advances bill clarifying execution methods

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Rep. Harold Wright (R-Weatherford).
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate advanced an amended bill that bolsters and clarifies the state’s ability to carry out executions, but a newer version of the bill returned the electric chair as an allowed execution method.

Passing 40 to 1 and engrossed, House Bill 1679 allows the state to use lethal injection, followed by nitrogen hypoxia, electric chair and firing squad as methods of execution. The bill follows a state vote in which voters supported a measure guaranteeing the state’s power to use capital punishment.

However, the floor substitute, presented by Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) “is vastly different than the floor version,” Sykes said.

“It basically says that the DOC and those who participate in the execution by lethal injection do not have to be considered a licensee under the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substance Act,” Sykes said.

Currently, lethal injection is the only method in use in Oklahoma. Problems with Oklahoma’s three-part protocol have led to a moratorium on executions in Oklahoma and an investigation from a grand jury on the issues surrounding Oklahoma’s execution processes.

HB 1697 outlines three methods of execution: lethal injection, nitrogen hypoxia and firing squad. However, the floor substitute version also reinstated electric chair as an option as well. The measure also allows for the possibility for any other method of execution not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

The bill’s author, Rep. Harold Wright (R-Weatherford) said earlier this year that he felt the bill would clarify that if one method of execution was not available, then another method could be used.

Sen. Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City) spoke up to show support for not requiring DOC or medical personnel to be licensees.

“Years ago, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, in their infinite wisdom, said that members of that body should never participate in an execution,” said Yen. “I adamantly disagree with that. I believe if a physician colleague of mine wants to help carry out what is legal in the state to make it easier on the person being executed, I see nothing wrong with that.”

The vote came one day after the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released a 300-page review that included more than 40 recommendations to address “systemic flaws” to Oklahoma death penalty process, and unanimously recommended extending the moratorium on executions until those flaws were addressed.

On Wednesday, however, Oklahoma’s new Attorney General Mike Hunter said he disagreed with the findings and that the state is “moving forward” and working with the DOC on new protocols for executions.

He says his office is working with prison officials and hopes to publicly release the new protocols soon.

“I believe in democracy, and the people in the state spoke very clearly in regards to the death penalty,” Hunter said. “We’re going to get a handle on the execution process. I’m confident that (the DOC) will come up with a new execution protocol and we will move forward after that.”

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Heide Brandes

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