Public records would turn secret under executions bill

By Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch Public policy in Ohio historically has insisted that transparency surround the state’s ultimate exercise of its authority.

Reporters are asked to stand witness in Lucasville as the condemned are executed with a flow of lethal chemicals introduced into their bloodstreams.

Defense lawyers, and the courts, are permitted to inquire about the means of death and how it is acquired and administered. The public has access to records concerning the execution process.

Under House Bill 663 introduced yesterday, a blanket of secrecy would be tossed over how Ohio kills its killers.

Prison officials and Attorney General Mike DeWine insist passage of the bill is necessary to revive capital punishment in Ohio amid a court-ordered lull after a botched execution.

The bill states that in order to protect people and companies “from harassment and potential physical harm, it is necessary to keep their identities anonymous and absolutely confidential.”

The bill would proclaim that the identities of execution team members and physicians and compounding pharmacies that prepare the lethal doses of drugs are exempt from release under public records laws. No compounding pharmacies will sell the drugs if they can be identified, state officials say.

The legislation further states that not even defense lawyers and judges could obtain the information – not even with a subpoena.

Pushback against the bill likely will include the Ohio Newspaper Association, said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the group.

“This bill represents a sweeping expansion of the secrecy surrounding state-sanctioned executions. Do we honestly believe the government can do no wrong and never should be scrutinized in the act of executing people? Recent history in Ohio bluntly teaches us otherwise.  Even the court system is blocked from access to information in this language, not just journalists, citizens, families and others,” he said.

“If this is truly a problem, let’s document the need with real evidence and attack it thoughtfully with more respect for the importance of transparency. Executions involve the government’s role in taking away the most fundamental right of all -- the right to life. Maximum transparency in that process should be treated like a goal, not a hassle to be legislated away,” Hetzel said.