Louisiana Advances A Bill Expanding Death Penalty Methods In An Effort To Resume Executions

FILE - A sign hangs at the Death Row building at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Sept. 18, 2009 in Angola, La. Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry on Wednesday, Jan 31, 2024, hinted at his willingness to explore expanding the state’s methods of executing those on death row, saying that he is committed to upholding “contractual obligations” between the state and victims’ families after the death penalty has been handed down in court. ( AP Photo/Judi Bottoni, File )
FILE - A sign hangs at the Death Row building at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Sept. 18, 2009 in Angola, La. Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry on Wednesday, Jan 31, 2024, hinted at his willingness to explore expanding the state’s methods of executing those on death row, saying that he is committed to upholding “contractual obligations” between the state and victims’ families after the death penalty has been handed down in court. ( AP Photo/Judi Bottoni, File )
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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — In an effort to resume Louisiana’s death row executions that have been paused for 14 years, lawmakers on Friday advanced a bill that would add the use of nitrogen gas and electrocution as possible methods to carry out capital punishment.

As red states add execution methods — from firing squads in Idaho to, the newest method, oxygen deprivation using nitrogen in Alabama — Louisiana is one step closer to joining the list. After the House approved it Friday, the legislation now heads to the Senate, where Republicans hold a two-third majority, for debate and possible final passage. Louisiana's conservative Gov. Jeff Landry has signaled that he will sign it if it reaches his desk.

“This administration is ready and looking for the tools to be able to perform executions. I’m giving them that tool,” state GOP Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, who authored Louisiana's bill to expand execution methods, said during debate Friday.

Over the past couple of decades, executions in the United States have reduced — in part because of legal battles, a shortage of lethal injection drugs that is used as the primary method for capital punishment and declined support for the death penalty leading to a majority of states to either pause or abolish it all together. Last year there were 24 executions carried out in five states, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.

In Louisiana, 58 people currently sit on death row. An execution has not occurred since 2010, and none are scheduled for the future, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections.

However, between a new conservative governor and, just recently, the nation's first execution using nitrogen gas — the first time a new method had been used in the United States since lethal injection was introduced in 1982 — there has been a renewed push for additional ways to carry out the death penalty in Louisiana.

Republicans say it's time for Louisiana to uphold “contractual obligations” between the state and victims’ families after a death sentence has been handed down in court. They say that other states have been successful in continuing to carry out executions and Louisiana could do the same. Democrats question the legality of proposed methods and wether it would fall under cruel and unusual punishment.

Although exploring the use of nitrogen gas has come as no shock to political pundits in Louisiana since the method is gaining traction elsewhere, reinstating electrocution has surprised some.

For four decades, Louisiana used the electric chair — dubbed by death row inmates as “Gruesome Gertie” — until its final execution in 1991 when the state moved to lethal injections. Today, the chair is housed at the Louisiana Prison Museum and Cultural Center.

Currently, only eight states allow for electrocution, however seven of them have lethal injection as primary method, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Likewise, lethal injection would be the preferred method in Louisiana based on the bill, but the head of Louisiana's Department of Public Safety and Corrections would have final say.

Supreme courts in at least two states, Georgia and Nebraska, have ruled that the use of the electric chair violates their state constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

Conversations over execution methods also ignited the age-old debate about the death penalty in general. Proponents say they are advocating for justice for the families of victims who believe it is the appropriate punishment. Opponents argue that capital punishment should be abolished due to the cost of executions, religious beliefs and racial disparities.

In addition, critics have noted that Louisiana has had frequent exonerations — 22 inmates sentenced to death had their sentences reduced or were exonerated between 2010 and 2020, according to the corrections department — and fear that someone who is innocent could be put to death.

Louisiana's execution bill is among a slew of “tough-on-crime” policies being considered during state's short special session. Other legislation includes restricting or eliminating the opportunity of parole for certain offenders, harsher penalties for some crimes and mandating that 17-year-olds be tried as adults when charged with a felony.