CHEYENNE -- The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would make firing squads the alternative form of execution in Wyoming.
Senate File 13 was amended in the House on Tuesday to require that death row inmates be administered anesthesia and rendered unconscious before being shot.
Because of that amendment, the bill went to the Senate, where a majority needs to vote for it. Otherwise, the leadership of both chambers will appoint a committee to hammer out differences.
After an afternoon vote in the Senate for which four people were absent, members decided that the amendment would be voted on next week.
SF13 narrowly passed the House, 32-28, and critics wondered whether Wyoming should even have the death penalty.
On Jan. 16, the bill passed the Senate, 17-12, with one senator excused.
Wyoming’s primary method of execution is lethal injection, but drugs are increasingly in short supply nationwide.
The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee sponsored the bill because the state’s current alternative form of execution is lethal gas, but the state doesn’t have a working gas chamber.
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, told colleagues Thursday morning that research suggests that 5 percent of people who are executed are innocent. He asked them to think about that before voting.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, served on the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee last spring, summer and fall, when the bill was being crafted. She said the committee didn’t vet enough methods of execution.
“There is (a higher) margin of error in this method of execution than others,” said Rep. Ken Esquibel, D-Cheyenne.
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No one is currently on death row in Wyoming.
In November, a federal judge overturned the death sentence for the last inmate on death row, Dale Wayne Eaton, who had been convicted in 2004 for the murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell, of Billings, Montana.
Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen recently filed notice that he intends to proceed with a new death penalty hearing.
Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, said that because Wyoming has no death row inmates, now is the best time to address the issue “so it’s not personal in any way,” he said.
Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, was concerned about the discussion about death row inmates, convicted criminals who have victimized others.
“Let’s not put them in a victim role,” he said.
After the Legislature makes a decision on the anesthesia amendment, the bill will go to Gov. Matt Mead for his approval.
When asked for a comment from the governor’s office, Interim Communications Director Michele Panos instead outlined the process for any governor to sign or veto a bill.
Last month, during a luncheon with the Wyoming Press Association, Mead said he had not committed to the bill one way or another. He said he was aware of the difficulty of states trying to get lethal injection drugs.
“I’m a proponent of having a death penalty in the state of Wyoming,” he said.