A Senate bill that advances the relocation of the Utah State Prison has spent the last week in the House Rules Committee.
The House may not further consider S.B. 92, Prison Relocation and Development Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City during the 2013 General Legislative Session.
“The Speaker of the House has slowed down the consideration of prison relocation,” said Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele. “I think she is concerned about making sure the long term consequences of moving the prison are properly considered.”
S.B. 72 spent three weeks in the Senate and received three public hearings and underwent lengthy floor debate with several amendments and changes.
On March 5, Jenkins unveiled a fourth substitute of the bill during a discussion on the Senate floor. That substitute then passed the Senate without discussion with a 19-7 vote.
Jenkins’ bill no longer creates a new commission but instead gives the existing Prison Relocation and Development Authority the power to receive and recommend to the governor, and full legislature, bids for a new prison development project. It also gives the authority the power to take development bids of the former prison property.
The bill allows for a new Prison Development Plan to include the operation of the prison, which opens the door for possible privatization of the new facility.
The fourth substitute bill also did away with granting the authority the ability to use sale and property taxes from the former prison property to finance the prison relocation and development.
Methods of funding a new prison would have to be included in submitted proposals to be reviewed by the authority.
The prison relocation and development authority presently consists of 11 members including two senators, two representatives, two people appointed by the Draper City Council, one person appointed by the Utah Association of Counties, and four members appointed by the governor.
This is the same committee that met in 2012 and determined that relocating the prison would be financially feasible. That finding reversed a 2005 study that indicated the expense of moving the prison would outstrip the proceeds of the sale of the existing prison’s property.
During the second look the committee took more into consideration than property sales revenue.
The financial feasibility of moving the prison revolves around plans to use the 700-acre location for economic development, namely information technology industries that have already located in the area.
Jenkins predicts that the relocation and building of a new prison would cost between $500 million and $600 million. But over the course of 25 years the economic development of the former prison site would put $20 billion into the Utah economy and create 40,000 jobs.
The state would also benefit from a modern prison that will operate with 315 less employees than the current prison, resulting in a savings of $17 million to $20 million per year, according to Jenkins.
Despite concerns about potential impacts, community leaders from Tooele County attended a Feb. 28 meeting with state legislators and expressed overwhelming support for the concept of moving the state prison to Tooele County.
While the sense of urgency for moving the prison may be slowing down, the topic is not dead, according to Sagers.
“If S.B. 72 does not make it through the House this session, we can continue to study the prison move during the interim session and possibly consider it during a special session,” he said.
The 45-day general legislative session ends on March 14.