Opponents say proposed death penalty regulations are veiled in secrecy, lack transparency


Proposed changes to Nebraska's execution protocol are under scrutiny. Opponents say the modifications shift towards increased government secrecy and lack transparency.

The proposed changes were written by the Nebraska Department of Corrections, and aim to address concerns with the state's death penalty law passed in 2009.

"Claims of secrecy really are just unfounded," said Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Tuesday, state leaders addressed concern surrounding proposed death penalty regulations. Challengers say it shifts away from Nebraska's belief in government transparency.

"This proposal really flies in the face of those traditions and those laws, and seeks to cloak in secrecy the government's plans for implementing executions," said Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska.

Under the proposal, the corrections director would not be required to use the three drug cocktail written into a 2009 statute. Instead, that person could choose between any execution drugs available on the market, without publicly disclosing what drugs are being used.

"It's not a matter of secrecy, it's a matter of flexibility with regards to availability and the drugs that may be on the market at the time," said Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.

The proposal also allows the Department of Corrections to keep material related to the execution confidential, something Attorney General Peterson says has been in place since 2009.

"This protocol that's being proposed now is just consistent with that, saying that the identity of those people who are members of the execution team which may include the pharmacist, or compounders, that those names be protected," said Peterson.

Opponents say more needs to be done to ensure the public has access to information and the state is being held accountable.

"Neutral, objective observers should have an idea of how these executions will actually be carried out," said Eric Berger, a law professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.

Under the new statute, inmates would be notified what drugs will be used before a death warrant is issued and would have 60 days to file an objection. The inmate and their council could release that information to the public, if they choose to.

A public hearing on this proposal is set for December 30, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the State Office Building in Lincoln. After the hearing, public comment will be turned over to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services for review. If the NDCS decides to make additional changes, the wording must be approved by the attorney general, then it can be submitted to the governor for approval.

To follow this story and all of Ifesinachi Egbosimba’s coverage, click here.

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