Senate panel introduces measure to shield some records from public

Senate panel introduces measure to shield some records from public

by
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
January 21, 2015
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
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January 21, 2015

By Harvey Breaux and Dustin Hurst | IdahoReporter.com

Idaho senators introduced legislation Wednesday that could limit the public’s view of transparency with regards to how the state carries out executions.

Josh Tewalt, a top executive for the Idaho Department of Corrections, told members of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee the proposal would insert into state code limits on how much information about executions the public could request.

Items protected include names of attending physicians, agency employees, consultants, members of the escort team and other medical staffers. The measure also protects from disclosure “any information where the disclosure of such information could jeopardize the department’s ability to carry out an execution,” along with the name of the vendors who provide drugs utilized in lethal injections.

If it passes, the information would become privileged, and not be subject to subpoena or other means of legal compulsion.

Committee Vice Chair Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, queried Tewalt about the broad nature of the language, suggesting it might give the agency more discretion and room for interpretation than is appropriate.

Tewalt said the agency planned only to limit information that would give away certain details that would allow the public to identify those people and companies involved with executions.

“It is not our intent the appropriate checks and balances,” Tewalt told the panel. “What we’re trying to do is prevent the disclosure of identifying information.”

Tewalt noted Idaho rules -- policies set forth by state agencies -- already allow for these protecting, but significant media attention on execution is forcing his department to strengthen the regulations.

Several states lead Idaho in protecting drug vendors from disclosure. Time noted last year that Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi and others have already passed similar laws.

News outlets in some of those states have filed lawsuits over the protections.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press suggested last spring officials in states passing secrecy laws have deep worry anti-death penalty advocates might cut off access to needed drugs.

“One of the main concerns of states seeking to protect drug suppliers' identities is the possibility that death penalty opponents might pressure those pharmacies to stop producing and supplying the drugs used for execution,” wrote the committee’s Michael Rooney last year. “Their concern is heightened since foreign suppliers have stopped supplying to prisons and, in some cases, stopped producing drugs all together.”

Kathy Griesmyer, public policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union, told IdahoReporter.com after the hearing her group opposes hiding the records from the public. She said the bill isn’t in the interest of public disclosure and government transparency.

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