Florida’s death row executions need more sunshine, less secrecy | Editorial
A bill moving through the Legislature would shield an important part of the execution process.
A thunderstorm moves over Florida's Death Row at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford in 2018.
A thunderstorm moves over Florida's Death Row at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford in 2018. [ CHERIE DIEZ | Tampa Bay Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 20, 2022

The state rarely assumes a more serious task than executing a death row inmate. For that reason, transparency is paramount. But a bill moving through the state Legislature would make it harder to find information about the lethal cocktail used in executions. Hiding that information hardly inspires confidence and sets the stage for obscuring or covering up botched procedures. Lawmakers should reject this unneeded change to the state’s open records laws.

For years, Florida prison officials refused to say which companies supply the drugs for the state’s executions. Now they want lawmakers to write the unneeded secrecy into law. The bill — HB 873 — would exempt any records that “could reasonably lead to the identification of any person or entity participating in an execution.” The “entity” part is important. As the Times-Herald Tallahassee Bureau reported, the provision would allow the state to obscure which companies provide the drugs used in lethal injections. The Florida Department of Corrections claims the move would prevent “social activists” from pressuring drug manufacturers into blacklisting the state from buying the drugs. Never mind that many pharma giants including Pfizer are already among the companies opposed to their drugs being used to kill death row inmates. Johnson & Johnson opposed states using one of its sedatives in death penalty cocktails before Florida had ever used the drug in an execution.

So many companies have stopped making or supplying the drugs used in executions that death penalty states have had to go to great lengths to find a reliable supply. At least 13 states (including Florida) have used rules or laws to hide the identities of their suppliers. Missouri, for instance, went so far as to use code names and envelopes stuffed with cash to hide the identify of the pharmacy that supplied the drugs it used in executions, a pharmacy that repeatedly engaged in hazardous pharmaceutical procedures and whose cofounder was accused of regularly ordering prescription medications for himself without a doctor’s prescription, a BuzzFeed investigation revealed.

Why would Florida seek to become a de facto part of a drug manufacturers’ risk management arm? It’s not like executions always run smoothly. Florida has had several controversial ones where inmates appear to be in severe pain or at least take much longer to die than expected. In October, Oklahoma’s first execution since several flawed procedures years earlier, left the inmate convulsing and vomiting unexpectedly.

This bill would carve another unnecessary hole into what were once Florida’s esteemed public records laws, a dangerous practice the state lawmakers have turned into an annual pastime in recent years. The death penalty is the ultimate punishment — and demands public scrutiny. The process leading up to an execution should be done in the sunshine, not the shadows.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.