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Senate approves changes in Ark. death penalty law

Posted: February 7, 2013 - 9:31pm

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The Arkansas Senate on Thursday approved revising a lethal injection law that the state Supreme Court threw out last year, and Gov. Mike Beebe said he’ll sign it despite his own objections to the death penalty.

On a 33-0 vote, senators approved revisions to the state’s injection procedures, including naming a chemical to be used. A 2009 law let the Correction Department director pick the drug, which the state’s high court ruled was unconstitutional. The court said the Arkansas Constitution required the Legislature to make the decision.

The measure now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.

Lawmakers have been trying to craft new, more specific death penalty legislation since the Supreme Court ruling. The new proposal by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Carve Springs, would require the state to carry out death sentences with a lethal dose of a barbiturate.

The previous 2009 law allowed the director of the Department of Correction to choose one or more chemicals to be used in the lethal injection.

Arkansas has not put anyone to death since 2005. Of the 37 inmates currently on death row in Arkansas, eight men have exhausted their appeals and are awaiting execution, according to the attorney general. But more challenges are expected.

Beebe told reporters he’d sign the measure if it reached his desk. Beebe last month said he’d sign legislation ending the death penalty in the state, but lawmakers have said they’re not pushing for such a measure and the governor has said it’s not something he’s proposing.

“What they’re doing is they’re responding in a way to the Supreme Court decision that makes it legal,” Beebe said. “It doesn’t change my own personal angst about ever having to sign one of those (death warrants), which I still possess.”

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