Senators in South Carolina have voted to add firing squad as an alternative method of execution if the state can't put inmates to death via lethal injection.
Under current law, executions in the state must be carried out by lethal injection, unless an inmate chooses electrocution. But South Carolina corrections officials have struggled to procure lethal injection drugs for years, forcing the state to halt executions if inmates don't choose the electric chair.
Tasked with finding a way to restart executions, South Carolina state senators voted in favor of a bill that would make the electric chair the default method of execution if lethal injection drugs are not available. An amendment to the bill added the firing squad as an alternative option.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 32-11 to give the bill a second reading.
The bill's co-sponsor, Republican Sen. Greg Hembree, spoke in support of the bill on the Senate floor.
Hembree, a former prosecutor, argued that a firing squad is a more humane execution method than the electric chair, but he believes lethal injection is the most humane.
"Carrying out justice is important," he said. "But you don't want to torture anybody needlessly. That's not the government's place."
Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Democrat who is against the death penalty, backed up Hembree's argument.
Noting that South Carolina is unlikely to do away with the death penalty any time soon, he said: "If we're going to have it, it should be humane."
He said the electric chair was a "horrible, horrible thing to do to another human being," but those killed with a firing squad are "dead instantly." He pointed out that Utah has had had a single botched execution by its firing squad.
But several Democrats in the South Carolina Senate argued against the bill, saying the arguments against the death penalty shouldn't be removed from the debate over the method.
They pointed to the racial disparities in the application of the death penalty in the state—more than half of South Carolina's death row inmates are Black, even though Black people only make up around a quarter of the state's population.
Sen. Mia McLeod cited the case of George Stinney to note that innocent inmates have been executed.
Stinney, a 14-year-old Black boy, was one of the youngest people to be put to death in South Carolina's history. He was executed by electric chair in 1944 after being convicted of killing two white girls, but was exonerated 70 years later.
South Carolina's last execution was in May 2011. Its supply of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
The state is one of nine in the U.S. that has an electric chair, according to the DPIC. If the Senate bill passes, it would become the fourth state to allow a firing squad, alongside Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
The South Carolina House is considering a similar bill that doesn't include the firing squad option.