Trends in the New Parliament: What did the first quarter show?

Experts of the Agency for Legislative Initiatives closely monitor the legislative process in the Ukrainian parliament. Now we will share with you interesting facts and figures on the current work of the Verkhovna Rada.

The Verkhovna Rada of the 9th convocation was in many ways a unique phenomenon for Ukrainian parliamentarism.
For the first time, a coalition was formed by a single faction. It is also peculiar that the majority faction basically consists of the MPs without political experience at the level of the national legislature. Many MPs had no experience in the political or public spheres at all. This affected the nature of the work of the Verkhovna Rada. In particular, 65 laws (out of 86 adopted in the first quarter) were approved as a whole with a violation of at least one principle of the Rules of Procedure regarding timelines and periods.

For the first time, a regular session of Parliament lasted for 13 hours (First Session). This case can serve as a textbook example of abuse of the law for the sake of achieving a political goal: adopting the constitutional changes promised to voters regarding the abolition of parliamentary immunity (with very doubtful conformity with the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure from a procedural point of view).

The instrument of alternative draft laws actually turns into a way of using the conclusions of the Main Scientific and Expert Directorate to improve the main draft laws (this is clearly visible in the example of draft laws 1209 and 1209-1 and 1210 and 1210-1). This practice requires a detailed study of all the pros and cons of such a technological discovery because not everything looks so negative in its application.

An inconclusive tendency to ignore legislative initiatives of non-majority MPs (during the first month only one draft law of the MP from minority was considered). In addition, the possibility of submitting alternative draft laws is almost non-existent. This situation is certainly linked to the lack of need to negotiate in the parliament, as it was during previous convocations. However, in this situation, there are both pros and cons. On the one hand, the majority received a carte blanche for the implementation of their policies, and voters were given an opportunity to clearly monitor responsibility for any changes in the country’s socio-political life. On the other hand, in the absence of legislatively enshrined rights of the parliamentary opposition, this situation inevitably raises fears of “curtailing” democracy and possible abuse of the absolute power of the parliamentary majority, and especially of the President.

The legislative process in the Verkhovna Rada of the 9th convocation is characterized by an increase in the role of the President. This can be confirmed not only by the situation with the “handing over of instructions” by the President to the Committees chairs during the Conciliation Council. Data of registered and approved bills by subjects of legislative initiative is also telling.

During the first quarter of the Verkhovna Rada’s work (29.08.19 – 22.11.19), 861 draft laws were registered, 86 of which were approved (including those that are being prepared for presidential approval). MPs have traditionally initiated the largest number – 766 draft laws, while the President – 32. At the same time, the efficiency (percentage approved by the number of submitted) is traditionally on the side of the President – 37%. However, if we compare it, for example, with the 4th session of the 8th convocation (02/02/16 – 07/15/16), the number of legislative initiatives submitted by the President during this period will be suggestive – 13. The President has traditionally submitted draft laws in the field of international relations (for example, ratification of international agreements, which is quite understandable because of the President’s Constitutional powers), the number of such projects by the sixth President during the first quarter of the 9th convocation was only 3 out of the 32. Among the spheres of regulation of presidential draft laws for this period, the following can be distinguished:

· amending the Constitution of Ukraine,
· the fight against corruption,
· law enforcement reform,
· national security and defense.

Another confirmation of the active position of the President and his influence on the parliament is the number of draft laws which he identified as urgent – 82 out of 861. At the same time, during the 4th session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the 8th convocation, there were only 6 urgent draft laws (out of 943 registered).

The common practice of considering draft laws in the Parliament of the 9th convocation was a violation of the Rules of Procedure. Below is a preview of these violations.

24% of drafts laws (18 out of 75 relevant) were considered with violation of the minimum deadlines for submitting alternative drafts. According to Art. 100 of the Rules of Procedure the deadline for submitting alternative draft laws is 14 days from the moment the first draft law is submitted to the MPs on the relevant issue, in the case of urgent ones the deadline may be halved – 7 days. In 18 cases, these deadlines were less than necessary.

44% of draft laws (33 out of 75 relevant) were considered with violation of the deadline for submitting conclusions to the MPs for the drafts prepared for the first reading. The minimum number of days for familiarization is 7 days. For urgent ones under the ad hoc procedure, a minimum of 4 days is required. In 33 cases, MPs had less time to familiarize with the findings of the main committee, given the fact that 6 draft laws did not have the conclusion of the main committee at all.

77% of draft laws (44 out of 57 relevant) were adopted in the first reading as a basis with shortened preparation for consideration in the second reading. Although this is not a violation of the Rules of Procedure, there is a question of abusing the right to set shortened preparation periods by the coalition, as the ad hoc procedure should be exceptional. However, the application of the abbreviated procedure for preparation for consideration reveals the inconsistency and lack of a clear correlation between the urgent drafts and the shortened deadlines: not all urgent draft laws received the procedure of the shortened preparation for the second reading (8 of 44). 16 draft laws were not identified as urgent but the procedure was shortened.

79% of draft laws (54 out of 68 relevant ones) were considered with violation of the deadline for submitting draft laws prepared for the second reading to MPs. Article 117 of the Rules of Procedure sets a minimum period for review – ten days before the day of consideration at the plenary session of the Verkhovna Rada. The period for familiarization can be reduced twice – up to 5 days – only if the draft is determined urgent. In 54 cases, the comparative table was provided to MPs with a significant breach of the specified terms. Moreover, in 44 cases a comparative table was provided to MPs on the day or a day before the vote.

65% (37 draft laws out of 57 relevant) were considered with violation of the deadlines set to familiarize MPs with the conclusion of the main committee before the second reading. The minimum time limits are set out in Article 117 of the Rules of Procedure and are 10 or 5 days respectively for ordinary and urgent draft laws. In 37 cases, opinions were given to MPs with violation of time limits – often one day before the vote. For 6 drafts the conclusion of the main committee was absent at all.

What is really striking is the average number of days for a draft law to pass from the moment of registration to voting as a whole. For government draft laws, this figure is 46 days, for MPs – 33, and for presidential – 30. For the context: according to the Rules of Procedure, the “procedural” duration of passing legislative acts cannot be less than 35 days (considering the possibility of a shortened procedure for draft laws that are determined as urgent). However, from previous convocation practices, in the majority of cases, the average review time has rarely come close to (or exceeded) this minimum. And even from the practice of the first three months of the 9th convocation, it is obvious that such early adoption is not possible without direct violations of the Rules. This is evidenced by the fact that 76% of the bills adopted as a whole had at least one procedural violation of the time limits.

It should be emphasized that the number of draft bills adopted is by no means and cannot be an indicator of the effectiveness of the parliament since the number of legislative initiatives and the speed of their adoption is often inversely proportional to the quality of legislative acts.