COLUMBIA – The state Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal to include firing squads as a means of execution but gave key approval to a bill to require the use of the electric chair if lethal injection is not available.
The electric-chair bill was proposed by Sen. William Timmons of Greenville, who argued it would provide certainty for convicted criminals' victims at a time when some prosecutors have been persuaded to seek life sentences, only, because lethal-injection drugs are no longer available.
"South Carolina has made its voice known and has asked that justice be served," Timmons said afterward.
The 26-12 vote along party lines came after hours of debate that included discussion of capital punishment.
After a final reading in the Senate, the bill will head to the House, where it will undergo hearings and votes there. If unaltered there, it would head to Gov. Henry McMaster, who could make it law.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Kershaw County Democrat, opposed the bill.
"I believe there are people who deserve the death penalty," he said. "I also believe that the inevitable arc we are headed in is that one day we will not have it. But what I regret seeing is us moving backwards in our recognition of our need to move forward in our civilization and in our humanity."
Earlier Tuesday the Senate rejected a proposal to allow firing squads. Rep. Joshua Putnam, a Piedmont Republican, had filed a bill to allow firing squads, saying they are more humane than other methods of capital punishment because death comes quicker and without lengthy pain, but the proposal Tuesday was a floor amendment.
The Senate voted 33-9 vote to table that proposal.
The firing-squad amendment was made by Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat.
Hutto said his amendment would allow inmates to choose either the electric chair or a firing squad if lethal injection is not available.
"This won't delay anything," he said of his proposal. "It just gives them the opportunity if they don't want the electric chair and they can't get the drugs to have the firing squad."
South Carolina has not executed anyone since 2011. Though officials say the reason is because of appeals, the state's prison system is currently unable to carry out an execution by lethal injection because its drugs have expired and drug companies have refused to sell more.
The state's primary method of execution is lethal injection, though prisoners can choose the electric chair, also available.
Timmons, whose bill would require the chair, also authored a bill to shield the source of drugs for lethal injection. Although that bill remains on the Senate calendar, it is considered more controversial and has less chance at passage than the electric-chair legislation.
He argued Tuesday that "our society is a society of laws" that must carry out death penalties as sentenced.
"The people of South Carolina asked for justice to be served, and it's our responsibility to see that justice is carried out," he said.
According to the national Death Penalty Information Center, three states have firing squads on their books, Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma, though none of the states uses it as a primary method of execution.
The last person executed by firing squad was killed in 2010 in Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
South Carolina currently has 36 people on its death row.
While all of the state's 36 inmates on death row are in the process of appeals, 11 have thus far chosen their means of execution. All but one have chosen lethal injection; the other chose the electric chair.