New Zealand Law Society - Committee time for prisoner voting bill truncated

Committee time for prisoner voting bill truncated

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Parliament has given an instruction to the Justice Committee to report back to the House on the Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill by 2 June 2020.

This is a reduction of the time which the committee would normally have to receive submissions and consider the proposed legislation. The measure was passed by 63 votes to 56.

The bill was introduced by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 25 February 2020 and given a first reading on 18 March.

It amends the Electoral Act 1993 to enfranchise people who are serving a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than three years and better facilitate participation in the electoral system of prisoners who are to be released from prison following a sentence of imprisonment for a term of three years or more.

The committee has authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House and outside the Wellington area, despite Standing Orders 191, 193 and 194(1)(b) and (c).

Introducing the motion to reduce the time, Mr Little said the reason for the shortened select committee time frame for the bill was that "it's appropriate considering the need to ensure that the Electoral Commission and the Department of Corrections have sufficient time to operationalise changes in the bill in time for the 2020 general election, so that eligible prisoners can enrol to vote."

Mr Little said the Justice Committee had heard a lot of submissions on this point when it heard submissions on the most recent Electoral Amendment Bill, so it will have heard submissions from the public on the very points that are in the bill.

"Submissions on the issue of prisoner voting were made to the committee in that bill, and, indeed, at the time of that committee's inquiry into the 2017 general election. So this is not a new issue to the House, not a new issue to the Justice Committee, and therefore the committee will be well placed and will have already given thought to the issues in this bill. I invite the House to support this motion," he said.