Gov. Herbert against allowing state commission, not Legislature, to pick new prison site

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he's opposed to the idea of allowing a state commission to pick a location to build a new prison instead of leaving the decision with the Legislature.

Herbert said Thursday at his monthly news conference on KUED that he would likely veto the measure if the idea floated this week by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, materializes into a bill. Herbert called it bad policy that would cut out his office and the rest of lawmakers from an important decision that has statewide implications.

"The Legislature needs to embrace their resonsibility here. They should be held accountable for that. All representatives and senators should stand up and be counted when it comes to what their decision is," Herbert said. "We've been elected to make tough decisions."

At issue is building a replacement for the prison in Draper, a suburb about 20 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City.

On Tuesday, Wilson said if the commission he co-chairs makes the decision, lawmakers would avoid being called to a special session this summer. No bill has been introduced.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he thinks it would be a viable option to have a prison relocation committee choose the site, with a ratifying process through legislature and governor.

"They're the ones that know more than any of us about it."

But he said that even if a committee made the final location decision, "At the end of the day, it has to be funded. And that's a decision that we can't have the committee make."

Some Utah officials want to move the Draper prison in order to free up the land for development.

Herbert said he supports moving it if a better location is found, but if not, lawmakers should reconsider leaving it at its current location.

Herbert acknowledged that it is difficult to find a community that wants a prison in their area, but said Carbon County is interested. That county is more than 100 miles south of the current location in Draper.

"Maybe a little bit too far removed, but maybe there is an opportunity there," Herbert said. "It certainly ought to be considered."

The prison relocation committee is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss locations.

Thurs far, the Prison Relocation Commission has been studying sites in Tooele, Salt Lake and Utah counties, and it agreed to accept any suggestion for new sites through January. Residents and local officials have opposed each of the three spots, citing concerns that a prison will hamper development and hurt home prices. The commission plans to recommend a final site or two to lawmakers this year.


Associated Press writer Kelly Catalfamo contributed to this report.