BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – Immediately after the United States Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam, a sedative, in lethal injections of inmates on death row, the governor directed the state Correction Department to obtain a supply of drugs so that Arkansas can resume executions.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled in a case filed by death row inmates in Oklahoma that the use of midazolam is not cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore it is constitutional.
The governor said he was ready to approve executions, once the appropriate drugs have been obtained. The attorney general issued a statement soon after the Supreme Court ruling in which she called it “an important step toward ensuring that executions can be carried out and that justice is served.”
Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, and our policy on executions has been caught up in litigation. There are 33 inmates currently on death row and the attorney general has said that eight of them have exhausted all of their appeals.
During the 2015 regular session, lawmakers enacted two new laws changing Arkansas death penalty procedures. Act 99 of 2015 allows family members of victims to witness the execution of the convicted person.
Act 1096 expands the number of drugs that Correction Department officials can select for executions. One motivation for the act was that there was a nationwide shortage of the drugs previously authorized in Arkansas.
Act 1096 specifically allows midazolam for lethal injections. The act also protects the confidentiality of the names of the officials who take part in the execution, as well as the identities of the pharmaceutical company that supplies the lethal drugs.
Attorneys for nine Arkansas death row inmates filed a lawsuit soon after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The suit asks the Correction Department to reveal the source of any drugs used as lethal injections, and asked for an injunction to prohibit Department officials from carrying out the death penalty. Attorneys for the inmates say that the drugs to be used in Arkansas will cause extreme pain and suffering.
In a separate case, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the state’s death penalty laws in a 4-to-3 decision handed down in March.
At a Capitol ceremony, the governor signed a trade agreement with officials from the Dong Nai province of Vietnam.
On the same day, a Vietnamese company announced that it would open an office in Bentonville.
Trade officials said that businesses in Vietnam are interested in purchasing grain, resin, cotton and timber from Arkansas. Also, they are looking for an Arkansas location for a furniture assembly plant, and there is a possibility that a Vietnamese company will locate a coffee processing plant in Arkansas.
Charter School Applications
The state Education Department received applications for 17 new charter schools that would open in the 2016-2017 school year. They include six applications for charters in Little Rock and two in North Little Rock. Three are for schools in Pine Bluff, two in Fayetteville and one in Fort Smith.
They are competing for seven available slots. There are 22 charter schools in operation, and state law allows the number to increase to 29 next year.