Louisiana House votes to allow executions by nitrogen gas and electrocution. Bill moves to Senate.

Louisiana has not executed any individual since 2010. Under the leadership of newly-elected Governor Jeff Landry, that might change.

This week the Louisiana legislature met for a special session to consider over a dozen bills that promote Landry’s “tough on crime” agenda. These included a bill to expand the use of the death penalty, House Bill 6 (HB6).

On February 23, the House voted in an overwhelming majority, 71-29, to pass the bill. The legislation now moves to the Senate, and Louisiana takes another dangerous step towards resuming executions.

This legislative development is in stark contrast to an effort supported by former governor John Bel Edwards to commute the death sentences of almost every individual on the state’s death row. That campaign received significant support last year, but ultimately was not accomplished before Bel Edwards left office in December 2023.

HB6 would reinstate the electric chair as a viable execution method. It would also introduce a new execution method — nitrogen hypoxia.

Nitrogen hypoxia is a process in which an individual is fitted with a mask and forced to breathe pure nitrogen gas. Without oxygen flowing through the airways, the body is slowly deprived of this element which is necessary for all tissue functions, and the person suffocates to death.

Alabama recently conducted the first ever execution by nitrogen hypoxia. This human experiment left Kenneth Smith writhing and thrashing while restrained to a gurney for 22 minutes, according to eyewitnesses.

HB6 would also create protections for those who participate in executions, including the pharmaceutical companies who provide lethal injection drugs. Their identities would be kept secret, and legally protected. Anyone who reveals information about those individuals or companies would face criminal penalties. 

Catholics in Louisiana are at the forefront of opposition to this expansion of death in a pro-life state. Most Rev. Michael Duca, Bishop of Baton Rouge said, “We as (Catholic) bishops continue to see the need to respect in all ways the dignity of any human person.” He affirmed that God’s image is present “even in those who have committed heinous crimes.”

On February 28, faith leaders from across Louisiana will gather at the state capitol for a press conference, prayer vigil, and legislative advocacy day to oppose the resumption of capital punishment in Louisiana.

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