Parliament will Weaken Public Engagement by Adopting New Barriers for Initiating and Debating Legislative Proposals
On May 4, the Parliament held a first reading and gave an approval to amendments to regulations governing the procedure of proposing legislative bills. The initiative entails adopting new procedures and rules for proposing bills to the Parliament which will differ from the existing practice.
A Legislative Proposal is a properly drafted request from a person/entity without legislative powers presented to the Parliament including a justified request to adopt, amend or repeal a law. According to the current law and practice, the right to propose a bill is an important way the public can engage and participate in the legislative process.
The 2012-2016 Parliament’s activities were marked with progress when it started publishing proposed bills on its website. A recommendation on this issue will also be provided in the Report on Assessment of the Parliament’s Performance by Transparency International – Georgia. The Open Parliament Action Plan 2015-2016 provided for publishing legislative proposals on the Parliament’s website as well as introducing functionality to make legislative proposals electronically. The same obligation is included in the draft Open Parliament Action Plan 2017-2018.
The 2012-2016 Parliament also developed, within the legislative process, a practice of inviting the sponsors of legislative proposals to hearings. The openness of information about legislative proposals allows interested parties to participate in the debate if needed.
The 2016-2020 Parliament approved, after first reading, amendments that create unjustifiable barriers for citizens who would like propose a bill.
Current Regulation (Procedure of Proposals and Deliberation)
According to Article 150 of the Regulation of the Parliament of Georgia, a legislative proposal may be introduced by Georgian citizens; state entities (except for the executive branch of the government and legal entities under public law); bodies of local municipality; political and civic unions and other legal entities.
According to section 3 of the same Article of the Regulation, a proposal may be made in a form of:
- a bill and/or
- main principles of a bill that needs to be drafted or
- specific proposals.
The sponsor is required to include his/her argumentation, signature and address.
The existing practice shows that the committee invites the sponsors and hears them. This is a step ahead.
Amendments under New Bill
The initiative entails changes in several ways. It will define the procedure for proposing a bill. It will also change the deadlines for proposing and debating bills. The Bureau of the Parliament will send a proposal to the Leading Committee (if needed – also to other committees) which will debate the proposal within 30 days instead of existing 20-day deadline. If the debate cannot be held, it will be possible to delay the debate up to 30 days instead of existing 10 days.
The proposed amendments create barriers to free exercise of the right of legislative proposals that are non-existent in the current practice. Namely:
- The sponsor’s argumentation will have to include the reasoning and essence of the proposal.
- If the proposal does not include information required by the Parliament’s Regulation, including the reasoning and essence of the bill, the chairperson of the Leading Committee (in his/her absence – authorized deputy chairperson) issues a letter to the sponsor and returns the proposal. The sponsor will be given no more than 10 days to address the deficiencies. If the deficiencies are not addressed within this deadline, the proposal is deemed rejected.
- The committee may be given the authority to decide whether to call the sponsor to attend the hearing of the proposal. A proposal will be presented for a debate by the chairperson of the hearing.
Drawbacks of the Amendments
The initiators of these amendments give the following reasoning in the explanatory note of the amendments: “to regulate issues arising from the procedure of proposing and deliberating legislative bills in the Parliament.” It is unclear what objective facts raised this discussion on flaws and problems of the practice.
The objective of legislative proposals is to ensure public engagement, specifically allowing them to participate in the legislative process and to propose their ideas and opinions. Contrary to this, it is impermissible to create qualification and competence requirements as barriers for citizens to exercise this right. More so, the practice shows that even the entities and persons fully authorized to initiate bills demonstrate lack of justification of the reasons and essence of bills.
These regulations create fewer problems for NGOs working on legislative proposals but may create additional barriers for individuals.
Additionally, a committee chairperson may decide that the reasoning of the sponsor of a bill does not comply with the requirements and thus the bill needs to be deemed incomplete. This issue instead can be considered when the bill is debated and a more reasoned decision – can be made.
It is important to keep the existing practice and that the sponsor of a bill had the possibility to propose a bill to a hearing of a committee, participate in the debate and answer questions. The amendments propose rules different from the practice: not only the person proposing a bill will lose the opportunity to present the proposal but he may not even be invited to the hearing on the bill.
We should note about the growing trend of proposing bills. The noted amendments will stop this trend. Namely, according to the data available on the Parliament’s website, the statistics of proposing bills to the Parliament are as follows:
- 2017 (April) – 35 proposals
- 2016 – 98 proposals
- 2015 – 64 proposals
Although the provisions of the Regulation of the Parliament require improvement, we should still avoid adopting rules that, based on formal grounds, substantially impacts an individual’s ability to exercise his or her right and changes the standard of public engagement.
We believe that these proposed amendments restrict public engagement in the activities of the legislature and worsens the existing practice.
Recommendations for Improving Procedure of Legislative Proposals
The procedure of legislative proposals may need to be regulated in detail under the Regulation of the Parliament. However, the new regulations should not complicate public engagement in the legislative process. New regulations should not create artificial barriers for effective functioning of committees and exercising the right of legislative proposals.
The following are our recommendations on the procedure of legislative proposals:
- An amendment should be made to the Regulation of the Parliament setting out the rules for a repeated consideration of a bill that had been debated and rejected.
- Clear regulations should be drafted regarding decision-making on legislative proposals when the committee only partially agrees with the sponsor of a bill. The Regulation should provide for approving the principles of a bill but not necessarily approving the exact wording of each section of a bill.
- For ensuring transparency of the Parliament’s activities and for better informing the public, committees should publish more information on legislative proposals including how many proposals were approved and in case of an approval whether they were developed into full bills.
- The existing practice need to be kept where sponsors are able to present legislative proposals to committee hearings, take part in debate and answer questions.
No artificial barriers should be created regarding the format of legislative procedures (for example, justifying the reasons and essence of proposals) as this will both prevent citizens from exercising the right and make it possible to reject proposals based on subjective grounds.
 The highest number of legislative proposals from a citizen have been made by Zurab Vanishvili (6 bills) and a legal entity – “Union of Civic-political Organization In the Name of the Lord – the Lord is Our Truth” (4 bills). Out of 64 proposals: • 4 positive reports have been approved; • 14 negative reports have been approved; • In one case, two legislative proposals were initiated (a proposal of the Ombudsman); • In 3 cases, the sponsors withdrew their proposals; • In one case, a working group was formed; • No decision was made regarding 41 proposals. For example, on 16 December 2015, the Parliament of Georgia approved amendments regarding restrictions on registration of child marriages. The bill had been developed based on a proposal of the Ombudsman of Georgia. Transparency International – Georgia has been a sponsor of multiple legislative proposals to the Parliament.