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Montana House endorses bill that would allow executions to move forward

Montana State Prison
Posted at 9:41 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 11:41:46-05

HELENA — The Montana House has endorsed a bill intended to let the state resume executions, by changing the law on what drug it must use in a lethal injection.

On Tuesday, representatives voted 56-44 in favor of House Bill 244, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Lenz, a Republican from Billings.

Since 2015, the state has effectively been unable to administer the death penalty.

State law requires that the Montana Department of Corrections use an “ultra-fast-acting barbiturate” as part of its procedure for giving a lethal injection. A district judge ruled that pentobarbital – the drug the state was planning to use – did not meet that requirement, and he blocked the state from using it unless the statute was changed.

HB 244 would make that change, allowing the state to use “an intravenous injection of a substance or substances in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death.”

Leaders say the companies that manufacture drugs meeting the “ultra-fast-acting” requirement no longer provide them for executions.

Montana currently has two prisoners sentenced to death: Ronald Smith and William Gollehon. Both men were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the ruling against the use of phenobarbital, and both are currently held at the Montana State Prison.

HB 244 is backed by Attorney General Austin Knudsen and a number of county attorneys. It has been opposed by groups like the ACLU of Montana and Montana Innocence Project, which say it doesn’t guarantee the state’s new execution method will be painless.

HB 244 must pass a final vote in the House before being transmitted to the Senate.