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Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law Monday a bill to make firing squads the state's back-up method of execution used whenever the state is unable to obtain drugs needed to perform lethal injections.
The Republican executive signed the firing-squad bill despite international attention on the state as it becomes alone in allowing that method of execution. (Oklahoma authorizes execution by firing squad only if lethal injection and electrocution are found unconstitutional, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.)
Numerous groups called for a veto, but Herbert signaled last week that he was leaning toward signing it.
"Those who voiced opposition to this bill are primarily arguing against capital punishment in general and that decision has already been made in our state," Marty Carpenter, spokesman for Herbert, said Monday. Utah is one of 32 states with the death penalty.
"When a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch," Carpenter said.
Foreign manufacturers of drugs used in lethal injections have tried to block their use for executions in the United States. Some states that tried their own deadly cocktails instead have botched excutions, with inmates sometimes taking hours to die.
Not vetoing the bill "is definitely a missed opportunity" to "stop putting people to death here in this state," said Karen McCreary, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. She called the death penalty "very brutal."
Theodore Simon, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, was among hundreds who wrote Herbert asking him to veto the bill.
"Reinstatement of executions by firing squad would constitute an embarrassing step backward that would adversely affect Utah's reputation for moral leadership by providing for a mode of punishment that is almost universally rejected in the United States and throughout the world," he wrote last week.
Simon added, "The overwhelming consensus against execution by firing squad demonstrates that this practice is inconsistent with the 'evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,' and therefore is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment."
An online petition on moveon.org had 6,400 signatures seeking a veto. News of Herbert's signature on the law was quickly picked up by news media worldwide.
The firing squad legislation HB11 was among 55 bills Herbert signed Monday, including one to toughen seat-belt enforcement.
HB79 makes failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense, meaning officers will be able to stop and cite people directly for the lapse. Currently, Utah has a "secondary" law for those 18 and older, so a $45 ticket can be issued only when an officer stops a vehicle for another reason.
Similar bills failed for years because many lawmakers argued that it infringed too much on personal choice. But Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a Utah Highway Patrol lieutenant, passed it this year arguing he has personally seen many people die because they did not wear seatbelts.
He argued that unbuckled drivers become projectiles in accidents and often hurt or kill others, and they often cause accidents because they fail to stay in seats while swerving and lose control which seat belts help prevent.
The bill was weakened before passage so that officers may issue only warnings for a first offense. The new law also waives a subsequent first fine if a driver agreed to take a free, online safety course.
Carpenter said Herbert signed that bill because, "We have seat belts in cars that can save lives, and it's something we should allow our highway patrolmen to make stops for, and remind people they should be wearing their seat belt."
Herbert also signed HB48, which bans powdered alcohol in the state coming just after Palcohol won federal approval for sales earlier this month.
It is a dried form of alcohol that can be mixed with water to create liquid alcohol. One packet of Palcohol equals one shot, according to the company's website. Each packet weighs 1 ounce and turns into liquid when mixed with 6 ounces of water.
Supporters of the bill said the powder could be mixed in water bottles or soda cans and concealed easily at concerts and sporting events, making it difficult to keep the alcohol away from youth.
Herbert also signed HB74 to clarify that sex without consent is rape. The bill received international attention when Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, in debate questioned if such a law should also apply, even among married couples, when one partner was unconscious. He later apologized and the measure sailed through with no debate and not a single dissenting vote.
Herbert signed HB226 allowing state regulators to impose air-quality regulations more stringent than federal rules. Utah law has banned such deviation from federal standards for about 25 years.
The governor also signed HB277, expanding the statute of limitations for filing civil claims against sexual abusers of children.
Deondra Brown, a member the 5 Browns classical piano quintet, who was molested by her father as a child, was among victims who pushed for that bill, and cheered as they watched its passage.