The state attorney general has asked the governor to set execution dates for eight convicted killers on death row, and a spokesman for the governor said that he intended to move quickly on the request.

An attorney who represents all eight inmates told the press that he intended to file additional legal appeals when the execution dates are set.

The legal dispute will center around the state Correction Department’s purchase of three drugs to be used as lethal injections.

Legislators approved Act 1096 of 2015 earlier this year to update the state’s lethal injection protocol. Lawsuits filed by death row inmates have kept Arkansas from executing a condemned prisoner since 2005.

The next legal filing is expected to challenge a provision in Act 1096 that keeps secret the name of the supplier of the drugs that will be used to execute condemned inmates. The attorney for the death row inmates told the press that they had a right to know whether the Correction Department bought the drugs from a reputable company.

A spokesman for the Correction Department said that the drugs were approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and were bought from a firm registered with the FDA, as required by Act 1096.

The eight inmates have exhausted their appeals of their criminal cases. They filed a lawsuit in April after the legislature approved Act 1096.

Arkansas has 34 men on death row; 16 are white, 18 are black and none are Hispanic. From 1990 through 2005 Arkansas executed 27 men, all for capital murder. Of the condemned prisoners, 20 were white and seven were black.

From 1964 to 1990 Arkansas did not execute anyone. Nationwide, executions were put on hold between 1967 and 1977 because of a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The major ruling came in Furman vs. Georgia in 1972.

In response to Furman, many states amended their death penalty laws, and in 1977 Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in Utah. In 1982 Texas became the first state to execute an inmate by lethal injection.

Higher ed funding

In a presentation to college administrators, the governor called the current funding formula for higher education outdated and proposed changes to increase the number of students who get a degree.

Too many Arkansas students enroll and don’t finish. The graduation rate of about 40 percent over the past few years, for university students, is too low, the governor said. His goal is to increase the rate to 60 percent by 2020.

Females have a significantly higher graduate rate than males, according to the state Higher Education Department. For example, the rate for males has fluctuated between 35 and 37 percent while the rate for females has hovered around 42 percent.

The graduation rate for students at two-year colleges has been around 20 percent. As in four-year universities, female students are earning degrees at a higher rate than male students. The difference is about three percent. About 21 percent of females are graduating from two-year colleges and about 18 percent of males.

The legislature will consider the proposed changes in funding of colleges and universities either during the 2016 fiscal session or the 2017 regular session.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, contact me at terry.rice@senate.ar.gov or call me at (479) 650-9712.