It is far from a lock, but the Utah State Prison may be closer to a new home after lawmakers Thursday approved a prison bill to solicit proposals to make that happen.
SB72, sponsored by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, went through eight revisions before lawmakers were able to agree on makeup of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority (PRADA) board and whether to direct the board to solicit proposals to turn the prison’s programming and operations over to private contractors.
In the end, the bill was silent on privatization.
“It was resolved through just taking it out of the bill altogether,” Jenkins said. That means PRADA is not precluded from considering privatization proposals, but a request for proposals would not specifically solicit such ideas.
Just two Democrats — Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Holladay — voted in favor of the legislation; 14 Republicans voted against it.
In the House, Rep. Dana L. Layton, R-Orem, said she feared that by not barring privatization the state was jeopardizing its moral responsibility to safeguard prisoners in its care. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, initially objected to the bill because it sought privatization proposals, but supported it once the language was deleted. Noel said the Utah Association of Counties and Utah Sheriffs’ Association also “feel good” about the final bill.
The Legislature also passed a resolution recognizing the important role of county jails throughout the state in accommodating some medium- and minimum-security state inmates. But language urging that any new prison leave that responsibility to the jails was deleted from the resolution.
SB72 would require that PRADA — with six of its 11 members appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert — get to work no later than June 15. House and Senate leaders would each appoint two members and a representative of Draper would fill the last seat. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimates the state will spend $1.7 million through fiscal year 2015 on staffing the board, impact studies and project design work.
PRADA members, who met a dozen times last year to consider different aspects of the proposal, decided moving the prison was economically feasible following presentations from six entities interested in the half-billion dollar project. Jenkins has described the project as 80 percent about developing the current prison site and 20 percent about a new prison.
The Governor’s Office for Economic Development estimates commercial development on the 690-acres the prison now occupies in Draper could generate up to 40,000 jobs and $20 billion over 25 years. PRADA will hold at least two public hearings: one in each community identified as a possible location for a new prison and one in Draper to consider redevelopment proposals.