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Lawmakers seeking to resume executions in Louisiana after a 14-year hiatus are embracing new methods of capital punishment

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – In an effort to resume executions in Louisiana after a 14-year hiatus, the Republican-dominated state Legislature gave final approval Thursday to a bill to add electrocution and the use of nitrogen gas as means of administering the death penalty.

The legislation comes one day after the nation’s most recent execution in Texas and a failed attempt in Idaho, both by lethal injection. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Jeff Landry, a tough-on-crime Republican who has expressed support for the measure.

Amid ongoing challenges over obtaining lethal injection drugs, Louisiana’s bill follows in the footsteps of other reliably red states that have expanded their execution methods — from firing squads in Idaho to the latest method of oxygen deprivation via the use of nitrogen gas in Alabama.

Advocates of expanding execution methods say it is high time for Louisiana to fulfill “contractual obligations” between the state and victims’ families after a death sentence was handed down in court. They say this bill is a tool to carry out executions again. However, opponents questioned the legality of the proposed methods and argued that new methods could violate legal protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

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Discussions about the bill in the Senate on Thursday also revived the age-old debate over the morality of the death penalty, which has been in state law for decades. Supporters told harrowing stories of the victims’ families awaiting their day of justice.

Those who say the death penalty should be abolished pointed to the cost of executions, religious beliefs, racial disparities and Louisiana’s exoneration rate — from 2010 to 2020, at least 22 death row inmates have been exonerated or had their sentences reduced.

“We are not debating whether the death penalty is right or wrong,” said Democratic Senator Katrina Jackson-Andrews. “We debate how far we will go to kill a man.”

Louisiana’s bill passed the Senate on a 24-15 vote. Every Democrat in the House and four Republicans voted against the bill.

There are currently 58 people on Louisiana’s death row. However, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections, there has not been an execution in the state since 2010 and none are currently scheduled for the future.

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Nationally, the number of executions has fallen sharply in recent decades due to legal battles, a shortage of lethal injection drugs and even declining public support for the death penalty. This has led to a majority of states abolishing or halting the use of the death penalty. Last year, 24 executions were carried out in five states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC.

But in Louisiana, between a new conservative governor and, most recently, the nation’s first execution using nitrogen gas — the first time a new method has been used in the U.S. since the introduction of lethal injection in 1982 — there is a renewed push emerged to conduct research using other methods.

The proposal to add nitrogen gas did not come as a shock to Louisiana political pundits — as the method continues to gain traction elsewhere in the country — but the reintroduction of electrocution has taken some by surprise.

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For four decades, until 1991, when the state switched to lethal injections, Louisiana had used the electric chair — dubbed “Gruesome Gertie” by death row inmates.

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

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

Louisiana’s execution bill is part of a slew of “tough on crime” policies voted on during the state’s brief special legislative session, which the governor called to address violent crimes in the state.

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