- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah measure that declares support for moving the state prison has cleared another step in the Legislature, with a House committee voting unanimously Monday to advance it.

The proposal is one of two from Kaysville Republican Rep. Brad Wilson to encourage a move of the 700-acre facility in Draper, just outside Salt Lake City.

The area surrounding the prison has become a high-tech corridor in recent years. Moving the facility, proponents say, would free up the area for real estate for development. They also say the current prison already is too small and too old.

“It’s worn. It’s falling apart,” Wilson told the committee Monday. “Basically the resolution says we’ve studied this issue for long enough, and it’s time to act.”

Wilson’s proposal is a resolution, not a bill. That means if it passes, it will be a formal urging from the Legislature, but not an enforceable law.

A group of House Republicans last week voted in favor of the idea, indicating it likely will pass in the House. But Democrats in that chamber have not formally weighed in on the issue.

If Utah legislators and the governor choose to move the prison, the state could save as much as $1.8 billion per year, according to an outside consulting group hired by the Legislature. But the governor has stressed that the state should not rush the decision.

Officials haven’t decided where they would put the new prison if they close the old one. That would be up to a committee of lawmakers and community leaders called the Prison Relocation and Development Authority.

The Draper prison is now halfway between facilities for eBay Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc.

Troy Walker, the mayor of Draper City, said turning over the site would allow it to develop as an “economic engine.”

Wilson said the resolution is aimed at getting lawmakers to stop questioning whether to move the prison, and start determining how and when to do it. But a few lawmakers said the state has more to consider before formally signing off on the relocation.

West Jordan Representative Rep. Jim Bird questioned how nearby schools, roads and neighborhoods would deal with an influx of families if the land eventually goes to tech-related businesses.

But the proposed move could help Utah in a larger effort to reform its prison system and cut down on repeat sentences, Maryann Martindale of the Alliance for a Better Utah told the committee.

An outside consulting firm hired by the Legislature estimates the state would earn about $100 million if it moves the prison and sells the land. No estimate was available on how much a new prison would cost.

The measure now goes to the full House.