Ministers announce 'legislation revolution': Less bills, more supervision

Opposition lawmakers say that this is another form of political silencing.

Ayelet Shaked is sworn in as Justice Minister at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 14. (photo credit: JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / REUTERS)
Ayelet Shaked is sworn in as Justice Minister at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 14.
(photo credit: JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / REUTERS)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin announced Sunday a new initiative to reduce private member legislation in an effort to strengthen Knesset supervision over the government.
The reform, reportedly presented to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein last week, aims to block what Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and Levin (Likud) label an influx of private members’ bills that are being used to draw attention to certain issues and not to fix a specific problem.
In return, the initiative would grant lawmakers extra tools to supervise government activities.
“The inflation of legislation by MKs is like a bear hug,” Shaked said on Sunday, addressing the more conceptual aspect of the initiative. “The madness of legislation is not helpful for our democracy, it is against it. More laws mean more complication, regulation and binding our basic freedoms with metal chains.”
According to the initiative, a Knesset member could submit up to five bills a year, whereas today there is no quota on individual lawmakers for submitting private bills.
Also, Knesset members would be able to raise only 15 bills to be discussed in the weekly Ministerial Committee for Legislation meetings rather than the current 30 to 45 bills.
Furthermore, it was announced that the overall number of bills that could go to preliminary reading would be limited to 250 a year.
In an effort to increase the ability of MKs to supervise government actions, the initiative would expand the circle of those who obligated to appear before Knesset committees for questioning. Currently, only a limited number of government officials are required to do so.
It also seeks to increase the number of government organizations under Knesset supervision, and would enable committees to require the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to discuss a certain topic by voting on it.
The initiative will give private members’ bills the option of going through the RIA (Regulatory Impact Assessment) process that had been reserved for ministerial bills only. This would allow lawmakers to understand in advance the necessities of the ministries and better prepare themselves for the discussion at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
The initiative also requires parliamentarian hearings for appointments of senior officials by the cabinet. It was not specified which positions will require Knesset hearings.
Knesset committees would receive an annual budget report from the ministries they supervise, and the minister would be required to appear before the committee and report about budget deviations and answer questions on the subject.
Shaked stressed that the plan seeks to ensure that legislation is not used to harm citizens and democracy.
“We created an entire formation of ‘give and take’ in which the legislators get additional tools for their parliamentary work and their supervision over government actions to achieve a good balance,” she said.
Levin said the move is vital to strengthen Israeli democracy and the Knesset as the body that supervises day-today government activity.
“As a minister, I see great importance in having continuous monitoring by the Knesset and in-depth discussions about government activities,” he said. “Giving proper supervision tools to the Knesset will reduce the ongoing influx of private members’ legislation. The current situation is a direct result of the fact that Knesset members have no proper way of expression and influence through supervision. This is why they use private members’ legislation so much.”
The Israel Democracy Institute welcomed the proposed reform, calling it a step in the right direction that could increase the efficiency of the Knesset and raise the trust level in it.
“Strengthening the supervision means of the Knesset and reducing private members’ legislation is positive and essential for Israeli democracy,” IDI president Yohanan Plesner said in a statement. “We should stop the legislation race we were swept into and the way Knesset committees now operate.”
Opposition MKs defied the initiative, claiming it is another way the government is trying to mute their voice.
“Making a quota of private member’s bill is actively silencing the Knesset in general and specifically the opposition,” said MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union). “I am sorry that the Knesset speaker is supporting such a move that is being done unilaterally by the cabinet without involving representatives from the opposition… Private members’ legislation by the opposition brings meaningful bills for the good of the citizens. We will work with lawmakers from the coalition to block this move.”
MK Dov Henin (Joint List), a lawmaker known for submitting a high number of private members’ bills, said the legislation was part of a wider attack by the government on the Knesset.
“First they came after the NGOs, the media, the courts and the Arabs. Now they are coming after the Knesset,” he said. “The private members’ legislation defended the disadvantaged, the environment and human rights. But in the world of those who drink champagne and smoke cigars, no one cares.”