TIME justice

The Tennessee Senate Has Backed a Bill to Reinstate the Electric Chair

Aaron Dickson, President of the Board of Directors of the Texas Prison Museum stands on November 19,..
A file photo from November 19, 2002 of "Old Sparky," the Texas electric chair in which 361 killers were executed. Senators in Tennessee voted to reinstate the electric chair this week. STR New / Reuters

Lawmakers in the Volunteer State say the electric chair could be used to kill inmates on death row—there are currently 81—if their prisons are unable to secure the proper pharmaceuticals to perform lethal injections

Tennessee Senators overwhelming voted on Wednesday to reinstate the electric chair to execute capital inmates in the event that the state is unable to procure the necessary chemicals to perform lethal injections.

In a 23-3 vote, the Senate approved the Capital Punishment Enforcement Act, tabled by Sen. Ken Yager, which would provide the state’s Department of Corrections with the legal backing to kill inmates with the electric chair as an alternative, according to The Tennessean.

A similar piece of legislation has reportedly been tabled in Tennessee’s House of Representatives.

The senatorial vote follows the Volunteer State’s decision last year to use the sedative pentobarbital as the lethal pharmaceutical agent to execute. States that rely on pentobarbital are increasingly having a difficult time procuring a steady source of the drug, as European pharmaceutical firms object to supplying their products to execute inmates.

Despite the passage of the bill, activists remained hopeful that the chair will not see active duty again in Tennessee.

Executive director for the Death Penalty Information Center Richard Dieter told Reuters that execution by electrocution is “painful and torturous,” which means the use of the chair would likely be challenged in court on the grounds that such a method violates the Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Tennessee currently has 81 inmates on death row.

[Reuters, The Tennessean]

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