"Today there is nothing under Alabama law that makes that information confidential," said Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, the bill's sponsor.
The House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve Greer's bill which says "the names, addresses, qualifications and other identifying information" of anyone performing an execution — or supplying drugs for lethal injection — wouldn't be subject to disclosure to the public or admissible in court.
Greer said the bill was a response to recent legal efforts by anti-death-penalty groups in other states, where lethal injection has been challenged on the grounds that the combination of drugs being used can cause severe pain in the person being executed.
The state is already semi-secretive about the drugs it uses in executions. Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said Tuesday that the state doesn't release information about the drugs, their manufacturers, or the pharmacies that sell them.
"If a company is defined as a supplier of a drug, there could be some blowback against that company," he said.
A nationwide shortage of the painkiller sodium thiopental has forced many states to reformulate the cocktails of drugs used to execute inmates. A 2011 Associated Press story quotes Corbett saying that the state replaced thiopental with the drug pentobarbital.
Corbett said Tuesday that information on the full drug cocktail has not been released "in a long time."
"We already make that confidential as a matter of policy," Corbett said.
Before the House committee, however, Greer said there is now no law in place to make the drug information secret.
Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Jeffrey Williams, who attended the committee meeting, said the same in comments to The Star.
"It's not strictly prohibited, under current law, that you would be able to know," he said. Asked what drugs were used in the state's executions, Williams said he couldn't immediately recall.
"I don't have that information on the tip of my tongue," he said.
Stephen Stetson, an analyst for the advocacy group Alabama Arise, said he has looked into the drug cocktail as possible grounds for legal action against the death penalty. He said the effort went nowhere, largely because the state hasn't made clear which drugs are in the cocktail.
"I don't know what they use," he said. "It's probably a lot like what other states are using, which necessarily would have been an experimental mixture when it was introduced."
Stetson said the untried nature of new drug cocktails, and the potential for a painful death when the mixture is poorly formulated, open the door to a suit on the ground that use of the drugs is cruel and unusual punishment. He said that by bringing the issue up, Greer might inspire more lawyers to request information about the drugs being used.
Greer said his goal was to protect the supply of drugs being used for lethal injection. He said death row inmates have the option of lethal injection or the electric chair, and they tend to choose lethal injection.
"Lethal injection is the method of choice and Alabama ought to be able to use it," he said. "First they have to have the drugs."
Tuesday's committee vote sends the bill to the full House for approval.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.