NASHVILLE (AP) – Tennessee could electrocute death row inmates if lethal injection drugs are unavailable, under legislation what won approval Wednesday in the state House.
The chamber voted 68-13 for the measure sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro, but the Senate would have to agree to changes to the bill before it can head for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's desk.
The bill would keep lethal injection as the preferred method for executions, but would allow the electric chair if the state were unable to obtain the necessary drugs or if lethal injections were found unconstitutional.
Tennessee's lethal injection protocol uses a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals, but states are exhausting supplies.
Democratic Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar said he could not support the bill because he opposes the death penalty on religious grounds.
"I believe in the law and allowing the law of God to punish a man for his sins," Shaw said. "But it is not for me to say I should throw that rock to administer death to him, because life and death is not in my hands."
Powers responded that he had theological reasons for sponsoring the bill.
"I agree with you, it's not our job to judge, that's God's job to judge," Powers said. "Our job is to arrange the meeting."
Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, spoke in support of Powers' bill, arguing that it was "a more humane way" of conducting executions.
"Some of the states now still have hangings and firing squads," he said. "I'd be in support of that, too."
The Senate approved its version on a 23-3 vote last week.
Under Tennessee law, death row inmates could choose to be electrocuted if their crimes were committed before 1999, when lethal injection became the preferred method.
There are 76 inmates on Tennessee's death row, including one woman. The state has not executed a prisoner since 2009. Tennessee last electrocuted a prisoner in 2007.
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