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— A three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis last week heard arguments for and against the constitutionality of methods used in Arkansas to execute inmates.

Attorneys for four Arkansas inmates on death row argued that the procedures for lethal injections could cause severe pain, in violation of constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

The state attorney general's office represented the state and urged the appeals court to uphold a ruling handed down in August, in which a federal judge based in Arkansas ruled that our system of execution is constitutional.

There are 41 inmates on death row in Arkansas. Last year the state Correction Department changed the methods of administering lethal injections. Arkansas officials believed the method of executing inmates was already in compliance with the federal Constitution, but revised lethal injection procedures to better withstand a legal challenge.

Arkansas methods are modeled on those used for executions in Kentucky. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executions inKentucky were constitutional.

The most recent execution in Arkansas took place in 2005. Since the Supreme Court's 1976 ruling to restore the death penalty, Arkansas has executed 27 people. Under Governor Bill Clinton, four men were executed. Under Governor Jim Guy Tucker, seven people were executed. Under Governor Mike Huckabee, 16 people were executed.

Arkansas has not executed an inmate under Governor Mike Beebe.

In Arkansas, as in many other states that rely on lethal injection, executioners use three drugs. The first one administered causes the inmate to lose consciousness. The second drug paralyzes the inmate's muscles and the third drug stops his heart.

Under the procedures initiated last year, a prison official will make sure the anesthetic has made the inmate unconscious before the second two drugs are administered. The official will check for movements of the eyelids and for any response to verbal commands. Also, the official will nudge or shake the inmate's shoulder.

If the inmate does not respond after being injected with the anesthetic, three minutes will be allowed topass, then the next two drugs will be injected.

Poultry Industry in Federal Court

Another federal lawsuit, of great interest to Arkansas poultry producers, began last week in Oklahoma. The attorney general of Oklahoma sued major poultry companies based in Arkansas. He contends that poultry manure used as fertilizer in Arkansas pollutes the watershed of the Illinois River, which is used for drinking water and recreation in Oklahoma. The lawsuit will be tried in Tulsa.

The Arkansas General Assembly has tightened regulations governing the spraying of chicken litter on pastures. Fertilizer from poultry manure has allowed Arkansas farmers to grow more hay and raise more cattle. Therefore, the trial has serious implications for livestock producers in western Arkansas.

The trial is expected to last eight weeks. Pre-trial legal maneuverings have been going on for five years.

The poultry companies say that pollution of the Illinois River also comes from leaky sewer systems, golf courses and septic tanks, and there is no conclusive scientific proof that poultry waste is the main source of pollution.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please contact me at HendrenK @ arkleg. or call me at 479-787-6500, extension 30.

Opinion, Pages 4 on 09/30/2009

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