Today, the Family Allowances Bill passed the first reading in the Riigikogu. It will consolidate into one Act the current Family Benefits Act, Parental Benefit Act and Maintenance Allowance Act. The same Act will establish a new maintenance allowance scheme that will allow to pay up to 100 euro to the child of a maintenance allowance debtor starting from 2017.
The Family Allowances Bill (217 SE), initiated by the Government, will amend, in the interests of legal clarity, together with the Family Allowances Bill, 19 special Acts in order to harmonise the various electronic proceedings conducted in the social sphere and to reduce duplication. The benefits relating to the birth and raising of a child will collectively be called family allowances in the future. Also, the outdated provisions of the current legal order will be updated.
The Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna, who presented the Bill on behalf of the Government, said that, with provision of the maintenance allowance scheme by an Act, a new regulation will be established, the aim of which is to improve the welfare of children of families who are raising children alone. Tsahkna said that it is an important step for very many parents who are raising children alone, and for the society on a wider scale. The Minister noted that, with that, the state will take a principal step in its family policy to protect the weaker party.
“The aim of the maintenance allowance scheme is to ensure that a child for whom maintenance allowance has been intended and ordered will actually receive at least 100 euro maintenance allowance. I would also like to stress that it is not a new family benefit or child allowance, but a scheme where maintenance allowance has been ordered from one party by a court. If one party fails to comply with it, through enforcement proceedings, this claim will be enforced against the person who is debtor, and the state will take the side of the weaker party and collect the financial claim. At the same time, the state will begin to pay a maintenance allowance payment of up to 100 euro to such child,” Tsahkna said.
Tsahkna pointed out that the number of parents who are raising children alone in Estonia is currently almost equal to the population of the city of Pärnu, that is, more than 42 000, and 56 000 children are being raised in their families. This means that every fourth child in Estonia is being raised in the family of a parent raising children alone. “There are more than 8000 maintenance allowance claims, or claims enforced against debtors, in enforcement proceedings by now. The amount that parents owe to their children – maintenance supports, maintenance allowance – totals over 15 million euro by now. It equals the whole annual budget of a regular local government. We have to understand that parents owe this money to their children,” Tsahkna said.
The Minister of Social Protection said that 7.2 million euro have been planned for the implementation of the maintenance allowance scheme in the state budget and the state budget strategy. “It is an amount that has been agreed upon politically and planned in the state budget, and this money will be sufficient to pay money to all those children who are entitled to receive this 100 euro per month. If such children will be very numerous, that is, if this 7.2 million planned as an estimation in the state budget will not be sufficient, then this money will have to be paid from the state budget all the same, and this amount will eventually be larger,” Tsahkna said.
The Minister added that parents would receive the benefits quickly, without effort. Application for family benefits and parental benefit has been made as simple as possible. “With this Act, we have also regulated the implementation of the a information system, and our aim is that young mothers and fathers will receive notifications after the birth of a child as to which benefits they are entitled to,” Tsahkna said.
Helmen Kütt, who made a report on behalf of the Social Affairs Committee, pointed out the position of the committee, that this Act is very necessary. “Actually, another big step has been taken towards achieving that women suffering domestic violence would also have the courage to make decisions more bravely, because they will know that if one party of the family does not pay maintenance, then there is a possibility that the state will support them and they will manage,” Kütt said.
Aivar Kokk, who took the floor on behalf of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction, said that families where one parent does not take care of the children may remain in poverty risk, and the state must come to help there, because every child is important. “It is important for Estonia that young people have a greater sense of confidence to create families and raise children,” Kokk said. In addition, Kokk pointed out that it is an important measure that will help reduce wage poverty and the consequent emigration. “The refund system will increase the income of families and, on the other hand, will allow to improve the situation on the labour market and to stimulate economic growth through increasing consumption which is the basis for the growth of our welfare,” Kokk added.
Heljo Pikhof, who spoke on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction, pointed out that a maintenance claim is not a private matter between the parents. “The state must also provide support there. A debtor cannot remain debtor forever, and the state will collect from the debtor the maintenance allowance paid to the child,” Pikhof said. “World practice shows that the state is more efficient in collecting debts than a single parent who runs around like a squirrel in a wheel,” Pikhof said.
Dmitri Dmitrijev, who took the floor on behalf of the Centre Party Faction, said that the Family Allowance Act has very integral structure, incorporating all benefits relating to the birth and raising of a child, including maintenance allowance. “But although little by little progress is made on the way of improving legislative drafting, our faction still has some remarks on the content of the Bill. “When it becomes reality, it may unfortunately not be so welcome anymore. The current amount of 100 euro is indeed better than nothing, but it certainly is not a benefit that single parents have been waiting for for years,” Dmitrijev said. He added that calculation of the amount of family benefits is also clearly a problem point in the Bill.
Monika Haukanõmm, who spoke on behalf of the Free Party, said that the Free Party supports this Bill, but they also find that additional amendments need to be made. “There are certainly many measures that affect the economic subsistence of families, and only a few have been set out in the Bill that we are discussing,” Haukanõmm said. She added that we should look further, at what ensures the sense of security for our families, so that more children would be born in Estonia.
The deadline for motions to amend is 18 May 2016.
The Riigikogu passed two Acts:
The Act on Amendments to the Electronic Communications Act and the Product Conformity Act (130 SE), initiated by the Government, was passed. It brings the regulation of radio equipment into conformity with the new EU radio communication directive. The amendments are connected with the extension of the definition of radio equipment, harmonisation of product requirements, and amendment of the essential requirements for radio equipment. 71 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act, 5 were against, and there were no abstentions.
In the future, the new definition of radio equipment will cover all radio transmitting and receiving equipment that are in civil use. In the future, the definition will include also radio receiving equipment (e.g. television receiver and radio receiver), as well as electronic equipment with a radio module (e.g. vacuum cleaners and refrigerators if they are radio controlled). Fixed line terminal equipment, e.g. landline telephones and fax machines, will no longer fall under the scope of the radio equipment directive.
These amendments will have to be taken into account in particular by radio equipment manufacturers, their authorised representatives, importers and distributors. For the consumer, this means that, as new equipment will have to meet the requirements of the regulation, particularly the receiving characteristics and reliability of the equipment that did not have to meet the regulation of radio equipment earlier will improve. It is also important for the consumer that more specific requirements will be set for manufacturers with a view to improve the compatibility of different accessories.
For example, it will be possible to set a requirement for the manufacturer that a mobile phone charger should be suitable for charging a tablet and vice versa. This will simplify the use of equipment for consumers and save the environment. Likewise, the directive sets out requirements for the compatibility of radio equipment and the software used in it.
The Act enters into force on 13 June 2016.
The Riigikogu also passed the Environmental Monitoring Act (100 SE), initiated by the Government, which aims to specify and enhance the organisation of environmental monitoring, to update provisions, and to bring the Environmental Monitoring Act of the Environmental Code into conformity with other Acts of the Environmental Code. 65 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act, one was against, and there were 3 abstentions.
The Act focuses mainly on the organisation of the monitoring, and provides for the duties of the institutions or persons responsible, and the procedure for the establishment of monitoring stations and areas and for the processing and storage of the data obtained in the course of monitoring. It also contains the principles of the procedure for drawing up the national environmental monitoring programme and for completion of sub-programmes thereof.
The Act specifies the tasks of participants in the monitoring, in view of the need to increase the responsibility for data, to preserve the data collected and ensure the accuracy thereof, to maintain environmental monitoring stations and areas, and to involve scientists and experts for more extensive and thorough analysis of monitoring results and drawing up forecasts, including also for provision of assessments of the state of the environment.
The Ministry of the Environment organises and coordinates national environmental monitoring. The Act also specifies the procedure for quick notification of the public of the state of the environment and changes therein.
Environmental monitoring is a means to help ensure the living environment appropriate to the health and welfare needs of people. Results of the monitoring of the state of the environment are used in the evaluation of the effectiveness and in the amendment of strategies, development plans and action plans, and monitoring data are one of the main indicators in effective environmental protection.
The role of monitoring data is important in the processing of environmental permits and in environmental impact assessment, as well as in the exercise of supervision and in application of environmental liability. The main objective of environmental monitoring is the evaluation and forecasting of the state of the environment and changes therein on the basis of monitoring data, and the tackling of changes in factors affecting the environment.
The Act enters into force on 1 January 2017.
Two other Bills passed the first reading:
The Bill on Amendments to the Estonian Defence League Act, the Military Service Act and the National Defence Duties Act (212 SE), initiated by the Government, will introduce into the Estonian Defence League Act, the Military Service Act and the National Defence Duties Act amendments deriving from the work ability reform and the implementation thereof in the area of government of the Ministry of Defence.
The Estonian Defence League Act, the Military Service Act and the National Defence Duties Act will be brought into conformity with the Work Ability Allowance Act due to enter into force on 1 July 2016, while the social guarantees for servicemen will be retained in their current form. In comparison with other fields, health damages are the most frequent in the military service, and the injuries suffered during the performance of duties are of vey varying degrees of severity.
The transfer to assessment of partial capacity for work or incapacity for work, planned to take place in the course of the work ability reform, would mean a significant reduction in the guarantees for servicemen, and therefore payment of the single compensation according to the degree of severity of the injury suffered will be retained for them also in the future.
In the area of government of the Ministry of Defence, the medical commission of the Defence Forces will continue to identify the extent of permanent incapacity for work and to express it in percentages of incapacity for work. Also, periodic payment of pension for incapacity for work and survivor’s pension under the Military Service Act will be retained in order to ensure a greater sense of confidence for servicemen in the performance of higher-risk duties.
In addition to the amendments relating to the identification of incapacity for work, with the Bill, the organisation of ensuring of social services and appliances provided for in the Military Service Act will be harmonised with the amendments to be made in the course of the work ability reform.
The Bill on Amendments to the Animal Protection Act, the Infectious Animal Disease Control Act and the Trade in, Import and Export of Animals and Animal Products Act (222 SE), initiated by the Government, will bring the regulation concerning the transport of animals into conformity with the General Part of the Economic Activities Code Act and European Union law.
The Bill provides for specification of infectious animal disease control measures, including the competence of the Veterinary and Food Board, in the event of suspicion or an outbreak of an infectious animal disease. The requirements for keeping animals susceptible to infectious animal diseases will be tightened.
The amendment of the Act is intended to ensure that an especially dangerous infectious animal disease spreading among wild animals would not spread to the establishments or plants of keepers of animals and to households, and to increase the infectious animal disease control capability of the state, taking into account the experience gained in the prevention and control of African swine fever from 2014 until today.
The rules for the removal of live pigs from the restricted zone and for trading in pork and pork products will be specified and updated. The bases for compensation for damage caused in connection with controlling an infectious animal disease will also be amended. The support for compensation of infectious animal disease damage will not be paid in the case when, during the period of restriction, the keeper of animals restocks with animals a building where an outbreak of the same infectious animal disease has occurred, and the keeper of animals has already received support for compensation of damages related to the infectious animal disease.
The Bill also provides for the possibility to impose a restriction on the movement of vehicles to control the spread of an especially dangerous infectious animal disease. This means that, before entering a disease-free area, a power-driven vehicle and its trailer will have to be cleaned and, if necessary, disinfected. The driver will also have an obligation to keep account of the time and place of disinfecting and the disinfectant used, and to preserve the documents containing the account for at least one year.
One Bill was dropped from the proceedings:
The Apartment Association Dispute Resolution Bill (187 SE), initiated by the Centre Party Faction, was dropped from the proceedings of the Riigikogu. Its aim was to provide for the procedure and conditions for the resolution of apartment association disputes between a member of an apartment association and the apartment association, and to establish apartment association dispute resolution committees in local governments.
The Legal Affairs Committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. 45 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Resolution, 26 were against, and there were 4 abstentions; thus the Bill was dropped from the proceedings.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian): http://stenogrammid.riigikogu.ee/et/201605041400
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu (NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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