A bill that would allow the Tennessee Department of Correction to use electrocution as an alternative means of executing criminals who have committed capital offenses is headed to the floor of the Senate.
Senate Bill 2580, sponsored by state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, won approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, It would allow the commissioner of the DOC to petition the governor to use the electric chair if the department is unable to carry out an execution by lethal injection.
Companion legislation, HB 2476, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, won approval in a House subcommittee on the same day.
The law already states that the electric chair can be used if lethal injection is declared "cruel and unusual," and therefore unconstitutional. But Yager said the bills would "close a loophole in current law" regarding what would happen if the chemicals could not be procured.
Yager said that the chemicals used in lethal injection were becoming increasingly difficult to find. With no alternative approved method of execution, he said, the already lengthy wait for inmates on death row is prolonged.
Yager and Powers say the issue was brought to their attention when a man convicted of torturing, raping and murdering a woman and her daughter in Union County outlived the husband of the victims.
"We're paying about $40,000 per year per person," said Powers, "It's about carrying out the sentence."
If passed, the law would take effect July 1, and would only apply to crimes committed after that date.
The electric chair was the most common form of capital punishment in the United States from the early 20th Century until it began to be phased out in favor of lethal injection in the 1970s.
The last person to be executed by electrocution when it was their state's primary method was Allen Lee Davis in Florida in 1999.
In 2007, Daryl Holton asked to be executed by the chair and became the first person in 47 years in Tennessee to be put to death by electrocution.