MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama lawmakers voted Tuesday to allow the use of nitrogen gas to execute death row inmates, a method that has so far not been used to carry out a death sentence.
The Alabama House of Representatives approved the measure on a 75-23 vote. A spokesman for Gov. Kay Ivey said the governor will review the bill before making a decision whether to sign it into law.
The bill would allow executions by asphyxiating inmates with nitrogen gas if lethal injection drugs are unavailable or lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional. Supporters argued the state needs another method of carrying out death sentences as drug companies become hesitant to supply chemicals for executions and lethal injection faces continued court challenges.
"It would simply put him to sleep. It's humane. It's quick, and it's painless," Republican Rep. Jim Hill of Moody said during debate.
Opponents of the bill questioned how lawmakers could assert it would be painless since the method hasn't been tried.
"We had Yellow Mama. Now, we are going to bring back the gas chamber," Rep. Thomas Jackson, a Democrat from Thomasville, said referencing the nickname for the state's yellow-painted electric chair.
The Death Penalty Information Center said that no state has carried out an execution by nitrogen gas. Two states — Oklahoma and Mississippi — have voted to authorize execution by nitrogen gas as a backup method of execution, according to center.
Oklahoma announced last week that it will begin using nitrogen for executions, when the state resumes death sentences, because of difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said then that the execution procedure would likely involve the use of a mask placed over the inmate's head, but he said the details would have to be worked out.