SALT LAKE CITY — A bill requiring the full Legislature to vote on the site of a new state prison and creating a new commission to oversee the move that includes the executive branch was approved Friday by a House committee.
HB454, sponsored by House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, spells out that the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission does not have the final say on where the Utah State Prison, now in Draper, will be relocated.
Wilson, the co-chairman of the commission, told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee he had received "feedback" on a proposal pitched earlier in the session to let the commission choose the site.
The proposal had sparked the suggestion from Gov. Gary Herbert that he would veto any attempt to take away his and the Legislature's authority over the move. There was also little interest in the proposal among members of the House GOP caucus.
Committee member Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said she wants the final decision of where to put the 4,000-bed facility to be in the hands of all lawmakers, not just the seven who serve on the commission.
"I just want to make sure that this is done with as much transparency as possible. I’m not happy that my community is one of the sites. I have to say that," said Hollins, whose district includes a proposed site near Salt Lake City International Airport.
That site is one of five currently under consideration by the commission. The others are near Eagle Mountain in Utah County and near Grantsville in Tooele County. The commission is expected to settle on a single site this summer.
Jewel Allen, founder of the group No Prison in Tooele, raised concerns at the hearing about the original version of the bill, which would have allowed the commission to make the final pick unless the governor chose to call a special session.
"Once that decision is made, it's like stopping a runaway train," Allen said, adding she appreciated the changes made to the bill in committee.
Wilson's bill received the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. The organization's public policy advocate, Anna Brower, said the relocation "process continues despite all of the political explosions over the eventual site."
Brower said "political reality ensures this is going to be a very difficult and emotionally heated process," but one that will ultimately benefit inmates by providing more opportunities for treatment and rehabilitation.
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