The Mississippi House of Representatives passed HB 638 last week, allowing the state to continue carrying out the death penalty despite a national shortage of approved lethal-injection drugs. The bill allows for firing squads, nitrogen gas and electrocutions, among other execution methods, for Mississippi inmates.
State Rep. Andy Gipson chairs the House committee to which HB 638 was assigned earlier this month. He said he supports the bill as retaliation against legislation involving execution drugs, which he said crossed the line.
“It may well be an unfortunate step backwards, but it is a step made necessary by the array of litigation designed to improperly eliminate the death penalty by court action,” Gipson said.
There are 47 convicted murderers awaiting execution on Mississippi’s death row.
On Feb. 8, the Mississippi House voted 74-43 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This means the state will legally be allowed to carry out the death penalty by any form of execution used in the state’s past.
Jay Hughes, Democratic state representative and Oxford local, said he voted against HB 638 and will continue to do so. Hughes recently began the second session of his first term in office.
“The perception of the rest of the country is that we are backwards. [That] is not helped by passing laws to return to archaic methods of human execution,” Hughes said.
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said the governor “generally favors the efficient administration of the death penalty in Mississippi.”
Gipson said the bill is fighting back against a lawsuit filed by Mississippi attorney Jim Craig on behalf of three inmates arguing the state cannot execute them because of a change in the drugs they plan to use.
Craig represents Mississippi inmates Richard Jordan, Charles Ray Crawford and Ricky Chase. He is arguing against the state’s use of the drug midazolam as a sedative on the grounds that it does not meet Mississippi law’s specification for an “ultra-short-acting barbiturate.”
“The author of HB 638, Rep. Robert Foster, drafted this bill based upon his own research,” Gipson said.
Gipson is a 40-year-old Republican representing Mississippi House District 77, where he serves as a pastor at Gum Springs Baptist Church in Braxton, which has a population of 181. In 2010, he received a certificate of appreciation from the national pro-life organization Americans United for Life.
“Yes, I believe in the sanctity of all human life,” Gipson said. “That is exactly why those who murder people should be held to account for the taking of innocent human life.”
Hughes said he suspects Gipson is blaming a group of people around the country who have sued other states to require that they be transparent in their executions.
“While I believe in a separation of church and state that has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court for over 200 years, Rep. Gipson is of a different opinion,” Hughes said.
Gipson is a religious man, and Mississippi is a religious state. A 2017 Pew Research study named Mississippi the country’s most religious state. The study reported 83 percent of Mississippians are Christian.
Hughes said he was familiar with the complications of prisons acquiring the necessary drugs for lethal injection before he was elected. The issue has been in the news for years as pharmaceutical companies have tried to remain anonymous in their involvement with executions.
The next debate over HB 638 will take place in the Mississippi Senate. Gipson said he will see if the Senate passes the bill, but it has not faced much opposition at all.
“I have given up trying to predict what kind of bills regarding guns, execution or gay marriage come out of various committees in the House, particularly,” Hughes said. “It is impossible.”