House votes down amendments to Kenai private prison bill

Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House voted down amendments Tuesday to a bill authorizing the state to enter into a contract for a private prison on the Kenai Peninsula.

The amendments, proposed by Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, would have required that the project be subject to the state's competitive bidding laws and would have required the private operators of the prison to charge no more than $89 dollars per prisoner per day.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough invited potential partners in the project to submit their qualifications for consideration. But Croft said the borough effort was focused on finding partners that could work well with the Legislature and did not look at the cost of the project.

''It doesn't replace a competitive process. It doesn't justify a blank check,'' Croft said.

The borough chose Corrections Group North, which includes Cornell Corrections Group, the Kenai Natives Association, Livingston Slone Inc., Neeser/VECO as well as lobbyists Joe Hayes and Kent Dawson. The borough has not determined what the project will cost and has not selected a site for the proposed 800-bed prison.

Croft said the bill authorizing the state Department of Corrections to work with the borough on the project amounts to a sole-source contract without a price tag.

But Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, said the state should work with the borough because there are few communities in Alaska that want a prison.

''What's different about this idea is they want a private prison in their back yard,'' Mulder said. ''I believe in the competitive process. I think its very important and under ideal circumstances you do that. But prisons aren't ideal circumstances, are they?''

The amendment to require competitive bidding failed by a vote of 22 to 14.

Croft's second amendment would have required prison operators to charge a daily rate of no more than $89 per prisoner. While the bill under consideration says the cost should be approximately $89, that provision only expresses the Legislature's intent and does not have the force of law.

''If we're going to have a process that does not have competition as its foundation, let's at least set an appropriate number in the text,'' Croft said. ''This is a fiscally conservative amendment. This seeks to protect state finances.''

Mulder argued against the amendment, saying the bill as written gives the state Department of Corrections guidelines in negotiating a contract with the prison operator. He said a private prison would cost 18- to 20-percent less than the a state-operated prison.

''We think that's a good deal for the state of Alaska,'' Mulder said. ''We're achieving substantial savings from the way the state would do it.''

Mulder also said the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly expressed concern that the jobs created by the private prison be high-paying.

''If you ratchet this number down, way down, you're probably throwing that opportunity out the door,'' Mulder said.

The amendment to set the per-prisoner price failed by a vote of 21 to 14.

A vote on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday.

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