Arkansas governor backs proposal to shield suppliers of execution drug

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that he supports a state prison proposal to extend the state law protecting the identities of execution drug suppliers to the drug manufacturers and the related paperwork.

The Republican governor made these comments to reporters after he spoke to more than 150 people attending a Rotary Club of Little Rock luncheon.

On another matter discussed at the luncheon, the governor said it's important to sound the alarm about the potential impact of a U.S. trade war on Arkansas, but he expects the state is going to fare OK as President Donald Trump attempts to address a trade imbalance.

During its meeting today, the state Board of Corrections will consider draft legislation that would exempt from public disclosure the manufacturers of the state's lethal-injection drug supply and their package inserts and labels.

The proposal is in response to a November Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that the identities of drug manufacturers can be released to the public, said department spokesman Solomon Graves. A 2015 law currently protects the identities of suppliers. Lawmakers believed nondisclosure would ensure the state had a supply of execution drugs.

"The disclosure of information which would identify manufacturers is of concern to potential suppliers, given that manufacturer information has been used in attempts to identify [the] supplier," Graves said in an email.

Hutchinson said he supports pursuing such legislation during the 2019 regular session.

"The intent of the original law was to be able to protect whoever is the supplier of the lethal injection drugs, and because the law had a gap in it that didn't include manufacturers, the whole intent of the original law has been prevented," he said. "So it needs to be amended so that the original intent is accomplished, so that the supply chain for the supplier of the lethal injection [drugs] is confidential.

"Any retailer, supplier does not want to jeopardize their business because of protests or awareness of where that supply chain comes from, so one breach of the supply chain jeopardizes the whole thing, so that is a factor in the ability to acquire the drugs that are needed to carry out the will of the people and the mandate of the court," Hutchinson said.

Asked whether he supports exempting the redacted version of the package inserts or labels from public disclosure, he said he would probably have to look at that more closely.

"What is the purpose of releasing any package inserts? Well, you are asking for those package inserts presumably trying to determine where the drug comes from, which is what the law is designed to prevent, so that's the objective. It is to keep confidentiality in the supply chain," Hutchinson said.

News outlets, including The Associated Press and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, have used the package inserts and drug labels to identify the manufacturers of execution drugs. Many pharmaceutical manufacturers oppose the use of their products in executions and some have strict controls in place to prevent their products from being sold to prisons that plan to use drugs in lethal injections.

Four such companies accused the Department of Correction last year of skirting safeguards as prison officials sought to find willing sellers of the three drugs used in executions.

After the public disclosure of the drug manufacturers, the Department of Correction has struggled to maintain a supply of the drugs. Currently, the department says it lacks one of the three drugs used in executions, vecuronium bromide, and has yet to announce the acquisition of a new supply.

One death-row inmate, Don Davis, has exhausted his appeals and would be eligible for execution if the state can find a willing supplier of the drug.

Earlier, during his remarks to the Rotary Club, Hutchinson said that one of Arkansas' challenges is the potential for a trade war that could affect Arkansas because Arkansas is a net exporter overseas, benefits from world trade and has world-class industry including Walmart Inc. and Tyson.

Arkansas farmers, ranchers and producers have been bracing for the fallout from a potential U.S. trade war with China.

After the Trump administration decided to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum products, the U.S. singled out China with plans to impose duties on $34 billion in Chinese imports. Chinese trade officials have said they're prepared to impose an extra 25 percent tariff on 500 U.S. products, including beef, pork and soybeans.

Hutchinson said the Belgian company Bekaert Steel makes a lot of of products in Arkansas that depend on the importation of steel from overseas. The company has announced it is not going to expand its plants in Arkansas because of tariffs.

The retaliatory tariff on soybeans raises the price of that crop produced in Arkansas for export by 25 percent, Hutchinson said. Arkansas exports $800 million in soybeans each year and one study estimated a 25 percent tariff would cost two-thirds of the export market in China, he said. Some of that could be evened out as a result of exports to other countries, he said.

"But overall, the estimate is that we would lose one-third of our exports because of that tariff," he said. "I say this because it is important to sound an alarm."

"It is important to say we do need to rebalance our trade imbalance with certain countries, and that's the right motivation. But we need to make sure that trade skirmishes do not lead to all-out trade war that has an adverse impact on the state of Arkansas," Hutchinson said. "I will continue to be a voice for that."

Hutchinson said he has raised his concerns with Trump and administration officials.

He said he hopes Trump is trying to reduce the imbalance of trade.

"But you've got to defend the state both privately and publicly, and I do that as governor," Hutchinson said, adding later: "I have got to fight for Arkansas on that issue and continue to do so, but I am still optimistic that we are going to land OK on it. We just have to work with them."

Information for this article was contributed by John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 07/11/2018