Knesset takes on gov't over bill

MKs formed a united front against the Economic Arrangements Bill.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
August 15, 2010 01:48
3 minute read.
Rivlin

Rivlin. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Knesset leaders met Thursday to form a united front against legislation known as the Economic Arrangements Bill. This piece of legislation, of major importance to the coalition, has managed to irk even senior coalition members, who term it a “Knesset bypass bill.”

In his drive to stop the Economics Arrangements Bill in its current form, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin met Thursday with the heads of key Knesset committees.

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Participants included House Committee Chairman Yariv Levine (Likud), Welfare Committee Chairman Haim Katz (Likud), Law Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ), Economic Affairs Committee Chairman Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Education Committee Chairman Zvulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi).

During the meeting, Rivlin and the committee chairs agreed that all contacts with the Treasury regarding this bill would be via a unified front which included all committee chairs; or, alternatively, with the agreement of the chairperson relevant to the specific clause being discussed.

Rivlin has held meetings in recent weeks with senior government officials and ministers in an effort to reach an understanding.

It is expected that the bill will be presented to the Knesset early in the Winter Session.

The meeting with the Knesset chairs came after Rivlin and the government failed to come to any understanding.

Rivlin told the committee chairmen that he will now allow the controversial bill – which has grown exponentially in size – to be brought for a vote in the Knesset, provided it retains its current format.

“There are, within the bill, significant reforms that demand exhaustive public debate, together with clauses that bypass committees, and cancel out and delay the enactment of legislation,” complained Rivlin, who served for years on the Finance Committee before becoming Knesset speaker.

“It is unacceptable for the Economic Arrangements Bill to turn into a central policy tool – and instead of supporting the budget, become the principal legislation.”

The Economic Arrangements Bill first entered the Knesset lexicon in 1985. It was introduced alongside the budget to help further economic policies and balance the budget the government presented. The budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill are usually voted on back-to-back; the idea is to maintain coalition discipline throughout their legislative process.

If the coalition fails to pass the budget, the law demands the Knesset be dissolved, and elections held. A Knesset feature for over two decades, the bill is a frequent bone of contention; the annual – and now biannual – Economic Arrangement Bills have a reputation for concealing pork-barrel politics and rewarding back-room deals.

Contends Rivlin: “This bill is designed to bypass the Knesset, and is invalid at its core. We cannot facilitate such an antidemocratic tool; everything that does not serve the budget itself cannot be lumped together in the bill.

“To my regret, the government takes advantage of the Economic Arrangements Bill to pass almost any legislative initiative.

This includes initiatives which could go through regular Knesset processes; it also includes initiatives currently being discussed in committee. It even includes those initiatives that the Knesset – with the coalition’s support – decided to table.”

The speaker complained that last year, he had repeatedly requested that the government pass its reform plans through the regular legislative process.

However, the government “refused because they felt they could more easily pass the plans through the Economic Arrangements Bill, which is why it kept swelling. I will not let that happen,” Rivlin promised.

Sources at the meeting said a number of the committee chairmen expressed their anger that the finance minister had “pulled” legislation that was under way in their committees – only for the legislation to resurface as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill.

In one case, a clause pulled from last year’s Economic Arrangements Bill to reform business registration, including a “green line” for low-risk businesses, reappeared in this year’s bill after passing a first Knesset reading. It was still in the Finance Committee hearings before its final vote.

In a second instance, the bill contained a plan to add an express lane in Tel Aviv – a plan that had already been advanced in five hearings of the Economic Affairs Committee.


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