Analysis: A thousand bills and counting

With only one day of voting on legislation, MKs have already managed to propose nearly 1,000 private member bills.

Knesset MKs at plenum 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset MKs at plenum 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The 19th Knesset has barely started passing laws, with only one day of voting on legislation so far, but its members managed to propose nearly 1,000 private bills before it adjourned for its Passover recess last week.
“Private member bills” are legislation proposed by an MK or party, but not by the government or a ministry. Only about six percent of such bills pass, and due to their large amount, it often takes months for them to reach the Knesset after being brought to a ministerial committee for a legislation vote.
Meanwhile, the Knesset’s other function – as part of the checks and balances on the executive branch of government – suffers, as lawmakers spend all their time on legislation.
As of this week, 19th Knesset MKs proposed 968 bills.
According to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), in the past decade MKs proposed 12,725 private member bills, as opposed to 915 in the UK, 159 in Australia and 118 in the Netherlands in the same period.
Politicians and academics have different ideas on how to solve the problem – which has plagued the Knesset for decades – and where it comes from.
“The race to pass as many laws as possible is superfluous,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post. “We need to deal with it via a consensus. MKs see [limiting private legislation] as harming their rights.”
For more on Edelstein’s plans for the 19th Knesset and how he celebrated three Passovers in Soviet prisons, read an exclusive interview with the new Knesset speaker in Friday’s Post.
Edelstein pointed to the press as giving undue attention to legislation that has little chance of passing, motivating lawmakers to propose as many sensationalist bills as possible.
“It’s legitimate to report on the bills, but the MK should know that the article will probably say how many of his laws actually passed,” the Knesset speaker said.
According to Edelstein, a balance must be struck to reduce the volume of private member bills, without reaching the situation in parliaments around the world where a member is considered successful if he or she passes one law.
However, Hebrew University Prof. Gideon Rahat, research director of the IDI’s Forum for Political Reform, said the phenomenon is so extreme that “major steps must be taken to stop the ball from continuing to roll.”
“This is a serious failure in the system that will take time and effort to change. It started to get out of control in the 1980s, and in this Knesset 1,000 bills were proposed almost automatically,” he stated.
A central reason for the continuing increase in private member bills, Rahat explained, is the personalization of politics.
When lawmakers want to show personal accomplishments, rather than be team players, they point to their legislative efforts.
“How many bills were proposed and how many passed is seen as a measure of success, especially for back-benchers, who are proud to have proposed 100 bills,” he said. “In other countries, someone can be a successful parliamentarian without passing any laws.”
According to Rahat, parliamentary oversight is neglected, so the Knesset can no longer be the “watchdog of the government” unless major changes are made.
“There needs to be a political reward for oversight,” he suggested.
The IDI suggested two possible ways to solve the over-legislation problem: Limit the number of bills, or make it harder to submit.
The second suggestion would involve including more details in the bills than currently required, such as an indepth explanation of its effect on the environment, gender equality, the budget and other possible ramifications.
MK Nachman Shai (Labor) proposed over 30 bills as the 19th Knesset began, most of which were bills that he – or friends who were not reelected to the Knesset – proposed in recent years that were cut off in the middle of the legislative process, due to the election.
Still, Shai sees the rising number of private member bills as a problem that can be solved through cooperation between the MKs and the government.
“We need to reach an understanding with mutual concessions.
MKs will propose fewer bills, but the Ministerial Committee for Legislation has to be less cruel and give that legislation more chances,” Shai suggested, estimating that the committee rejects over 90% of the bills it sees.
“The ministers encourage turning [legislation] into a show. If the ministers aren’t more lenient, we will continue to drive them crazy and create a massive load on the committee,” he stated.
Many new MKs do not yet understand that their bills will, in all likelihood, be voted down, Shai explained, and he is prepared for a repeat of the situation that prevailed in the previous Knesset regarding private legislation, which he called “total insanity.”