Doing away with the Economic Arrangements Law

If Knesset is unable or unwilling to pass appropriate legislation, it should at least try to reach agreement with the gov't on its permanent reduction.

Knesset (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last Wednesday, the Knesset approved the Budget Law and the Economic Arrangements Law for 2011-2012. With regard to the latter, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin can boast a tactical victory.
After a five-month battle with the Treasury, the Arrangements Law finally approved was much shorter than the original. A tactical victory – not a strategic one. A strategic victory would involve the total abolition of the law, or an undertaking by the Treasury to limit it to the absolute minimum required.
The first Arrangements Law was introduced by the government in 1985 to implement harsh economic measures needed to cope with hyperinflation. In the years that followed, the law evolved into a device for introducing amendments into existing laws required to implement the budget, and getting them approved by the Knesset in a rush simultaneously with the Budget Law.
However, it didn’t take long before the Treasury started including pieces of legislation that had little or nothing to do with the budget, involving major structural reforms and the cancellation or deferment of private members’ legislation that had been passed despite the government’s disapproval. The law rapidly turned into a classic omnibus law – a law of enormous dimensions that includes provisions in spheres that have nothing to do with each other, and which the legislature is expected to approve without proper deliberation and consideration.
Omnibus laws are not uncommon in the US federal government, but are prohibited in 43 of the 50 states by means of a “single subject rule.”
However, since the US has a presidential system, the background to the omnibus legislation is different to that of the law here.
There are, however, several countries with parliamentary systems that have laws almost identical to the Arrangement Law. These include Belgium, Italy, Austria (from time to time) and Canada (its Budget Implementation Act for 2010 was more than 900 pages long). Spain had such a law until 2004, when it was abolished by the newly elected socialist prime minister who had promised that if elected he would do away with it.
It should be noted that all the countries that have laws similar to the Economic Arrangements Law introduced them in times of financial crisis, and in all cases the finance ministries discovered that they were a very convenient tool, even if highly problematic from a democratic point of view.
BEYOND THE efforts of the Knesset speaker to delete from the arrangements bill as many provisions as possible, what can the Knesset do on a more permanent basis? It has two options. It must either make the Arrangements Law illegal, or it must reach a package deal with the government.
On the various occasions on which the High Court of Justice was called upon to rule on issues connected with the Arrangements Law, it stated that while the law is highly problematic, it is not illegal. The conclusion is that to make the law illegal, the Knesset must either introduce the single-subject rule into its legislation (such a provision actually existed at the time of the British Mandate), or pass a law – preferable as part of a Basic Law on legislation – which prohibits hasty legislative procedures, except in times of emergency.
If the Knesset is unable or unwilling to pass the appropriate legislation, it should at least try to reach an agreement with the government on the permanent reduction of the Arrangement Law’s dimensions.
The outline for such an agreement was prepared during the 17th Knesset by cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel and Knesset secretary (and its current legal adviser) Eyal Yinon. Their proposal was the outcome of a round table held on the subject of improving Knesset-government relations.
What they proposed was that in return for the Knesset dealing more efficiently with government bills, and reducing the number of private members’ bills brought to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, the government would limit the provisions in the arrangements bill to the absolute minimum required to implement the budget. It was also proposed that the mechanism for consultation between MKs and the government with regard to private members’ bills be improved.
Unfortunately, the dialogue between the government and the Knesset on the improvement of their mutual relations was not renewed during the 18th Knesset. The tension between Rivlin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes the resumption of the dialogue highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.