SAN FRANCISCO – California correctional officials on Friday asked state regulators to approve a revised method of carrying out death sentences after years of delays that have stalled executions since 2006.
The new regulations would allow California's death row inmates to be executed using one of two different drugs or choose the gas chamber.
The state is acting after what critics say are years of delaying tactics by Democratic office-holders who have been in no hurry to resume carrying out the death penalty.
Corrections officials filed the revised regulations one day after the state Supreme Court upheld a voter-approved measure to speed up death sentences. That leaves one major obstacle before executions can resume: Getting approval for a new lethal injection method.
Among other things, the justices' decision upholding Proposition 66 ends the requirement that prison officials receive approval from state regulators for their new lethal injection plan.
Corrections officials, however, decided to submit the revised regulations to the state Office of Administrative Law and follow the normal regulatory process until the justices' decision becomes final.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, isn't bothered by their decision even though his organization had to sue to pressure corrections officials into adopting the new execution regulations after three years of delays.
"That's cautious but I can't say that being cautious is a bad thing, because they know they're going to be sued — they always are," he said.
The high court's decision could become final as soon as late next month, although the court could extend that time for an additional 60 days. Once it becomes final, corrections officials will no longer need regulatory approval for the new lethal injection rules, so those will become final as well.
The next step would then be for state officials to ask a federal judge and a Marin County superior court judge to lift separate longstanding injunctions that applied to California's old way of executing inmates using a combination of three lethal drugs.
Those injunctions have prevented the state from executing anyone since 2006.
Under the new rules, corrections officials would choose between the powerful barbiturates pentobarbital or thiopental for each execution, depending on which one is available.
They initially proposed using any one of four drugs, but they dropped two of them after opponents said those drugs had never been used in executions and questioned whether the drugs would be safe and effective.
There may be other legal challenges to the final rules, however. Opponents already are objecting, for instance, that the rules allow the state to obtain the barbiturates from compounding pharmacies instead of manufacturers as the state attempts to work around a nationwide shortage of execution drugs.