The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that allows for firing squads to carry out death penalty sentences and makes electrocution a more likely means of execution.
The potential change in South Carolina law comes as states nationwide have hit barriers executing those on death row due to problems administering lethal injections, the widely preferred method in the US. Difficulties finding the required drugs have essentially paused executions in many states including South Carolina, which has not had an execution since 2011.
Lethal injection and electrocution are the two current choices given to a death row inmate in South Carolina, and if an inmate picks lethal injection, the state has been unable to move forward with the execution.
The bill changes the default method of execution to electrocution if lethal injections cannot be given, and offers the inmate the alternative of dying by firing squad. Lethal injection will remain an option utilized if the drugs are available.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday that he intends to sign the bill into law if it passes the state legislature.
“We are one step closer to providing victims’ families and loved ones with the justice and closure they are owed by law. I will sign this legislation as soon as it gets to my desk,” he said in a statement.
House lawmakers passed the bill by a vote of 66-43. The state Senate passed a similar version in March and must approve the House’s language before sending it to the governor.
Opponents of the measure deplored the new execution methods as well as the use of the death penalty in general. State Rep. Justin Bamberg described the visceral nature of death by electrocution on the House floor during debate, laying out the step-by-step procedures during the execution process.
“You can’t be afraid of what the reality is. You can’t vote for electrocution and death and be afraid to face it in front of your very eyes,” he said.
“It’s 2021. We should move on from these barbaric forms of punishment that are more medieval than they are modern. Today, our state has taken a step backward and I am ashamed,” State House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford said in a statement after the bill passed.
If signed into law, South Carolina would become the fourth state to allow death row inmates the option of death by firing squad, joining Oklahoma, Mississippi and Utah.