Opinion: Anti-death penalty group opposed SC drug company shield law it now wants

·2 min read

Last week, The State published a guest column by attorney John Blume, founder of Justice 360, a non-profit that represents death row inmates in South Carolina. The column said South Carolina needs a law to shield the identify of companies that sell lethal injection drugs, and that state Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling hasn’t done enough to make that happen.

This is simply incorrect.

Soon after Stirling was confirmed as director of the Department of Corrections in 2014, he started informing the General Assembly about the department’s inability to obtain drugs to carry out a lethal injection execution.

The department’s last execution drugs expired in 2013. Even though SCDC was years away from receiving an expected death order, Stirling asked his staff to investigate and bring him options. Is there someone who would sell the state drugs without a shield law? Could the agency compound its own and, if so, how much would that cost? Are there other options? The answer he got, and continues to get, is that companies refuse to sell the drugs to our state because we do not have the ability to shield their identity.

Stirling asked for an Attorney General’s opinion on the issue, but that did not convince any drug company to sell the lethal injection drugs to the department.

He brought the issue to the General Assembly, informing lawmakers of the situation. That’s his role — to educate lawmakers about issues involving the department. Bills were introduced in the 2016 legislative session in both the Senate and House that would have created a shield law. Stirling testified about the situation multiple times. And he’s not the only one.

Justice 360 mounted fierce opposition to the shield law bill, testifying against it and urging lawmakers to vote against the measure they say South Carolina now needs.

“We oppose this bill because if the State is going to carry out the ultimate punishment and take the life of one of its citizens, it should do so with transparency and accountability,” Justice 360 attorney Lindsey Vann was quoted in The State newspaper. She described the bill as “special-interest legislation designed to shield private sector drug companies from lawful criticism and to stifle public debate.”

After their testimony, the bill that would have created a shield law never got out of committee.

We are here today because Justice 360 opposed a shield law. Stirling has repeatedly informed lawmakers of our situation, and lawmakers have responded by passing legislation to solve these problems.

Opposing the creation of a shield law paved the way for the recent death penalty law to pass, creating a firing squad and making the electric chair the state’s default method of execution. I am eager to reintroduce the shield law for consideration by the General Assembly in 2022 and I am hopeful that Justice 360 will now become a supporter of such a measure.

Greg Hembree represents the citizens of Horry and Dillon Counties in Senate District 28 and was a career prosecutor and the elected Solicitor for the 15 th Judicial Circuit for 14 years. He is the primary sponsor of the bill reinstating the death penalty by electrocution, lethal injection, and firing squad.

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