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Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature would decide if the Draper prison is relocated and where a new one is built under a compromise that received unanimous support Friday in a House panel.
This is a big shift from a week ago, when the Prison Relocation Commission, with the backing of House and Senate leaders, sought the power to make a unilateral decision. Herbert threatened a veto and rank-and-file lawmakers revolted. So legislative leaders offered lawmakers an optional vote, but that didn't satisfy critics.
On Friday, the commission's co-chairmen, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, relented.
"The Legislature definitely wants a say in this," said Stevenson, who attended Friday's hearing. "We might just as well draw up a process where the Legislature has a say and the governor has a say."
The amended plan, HB454, would require the Prison Relocation Commission to recommend a site by Aug. 1, picking from the five locations now under consideration. Then Herbert could call lawmakers into special session for a vote.
It's possible the governor could push the decision off to the 2016 general session, although Wilson said that's unlikely at this point.
Members of the House Law Enforcement Committee thanked Wilson for the policy change.
"By leaving the decision in the hands of the Legislature, people in my community are going to be happier about it," said Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan.
A new prison would cost at least $500 million and would involve a series of buildings on a 500-acre plot. Wilson called it "the single largest building construction project in the history of the state."
The five sites under consideration include one west of Salt Lake City International Airport, two in Tooele County (one near the WalMart Distribution Center outside of Grantsville, the other near Miller Motorsports Park) and two in northwest Utah County (one at the south end of Eagle Mountain, another on a dry wheat field in nearby Fairfield).
The Legislature has set aside $80 million to buy land and to start planning the project. That amount could change before the session ends Thursday. The Legislature plans to bond for the remainder of the costs.