The Bill on amendments to the Private Schools Act and associated Acts, which will allow for additional state support to private schools until the end of 2019, passed the second reading in the Riigikogu today.
Under the Bill on Amendments to the Private Schools Act, the Youth Work Act and the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act (142 SE), initiated by the Government, the covering of the operating expenses, that is, the costs related to the maintenance of the school building, of private schools will become voluntary for local governments. Private schools where children with special educational needs study are discussed as an exception in the Bill. If the Act is passed, it will enter into force on 1 January 2017.
Kalle Muuli, who spoke on behalf of the Cultural Affairs Committee, said that the Committee had developed its own compromise and had made a proposal to establish the transition period for supporting the operating expenses of private schools from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2019.
During these three years, the state will compensate to private schools 75 per cent of the support received by the municipal schools of the relevant local government. The upper limit of the support will be EUR 87 euro per month per pupil. The state would spend a total of EUR 13.64 million for that over three years.
Muuli explained that an exception has been made for six schools of children with special educational needs in the case of whom compensation will continue in the current volume. Muuli added that while the Bill presented by the Government provides for an exception until the year 2020, the Cultural Affairs Committee considers it necessary to extend this period until the end of 2023.
One motion to amend will eliminate the restriction that allows private schools to raise their tuition fee by no more than 10 per cent in a year. The Cultural Affairs Committee also considered it necessary to increase the role and influence of the local government in the direction of the activities of private schools, and considered it necessary to establish an obligation to ask, before the grant of an education licence, the opinion of the local government and the county governor for establishing a private school.
Also, it is intended to define private schools as part of the school network in the Act. “Private schools are an exactly similar part of the school network as all municipal schools or state schools,” Muuli said.
Martin Helme who took the floor during the debate moved to suspend the second reading of the Bill on behalf of the Conservative People’s Party. He was critical because the compromise would gradually postpone the problem.
Lauri Luik and Liina Kersna took the floor on behalf of the Reform Party Faction during the debate. Mailis Reps spoke on behalf of the Centre Party Faction, Priit Sibul on behalf of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction and Krista Aru on behalf of the Free Party Faction.
Luik considered it important that owners of private schools have been granted a transitional period. He also attached importance to continuing support to the private schools where children with special needs are taught.
Reps expressed sadness over the process by which the compromise had been reached because, in her words, the great controversies and accusations had not actually been necessary. She was glad, however, over the initiative of parents to pay strong attention to their children.
Kersna expressed a hope that local governments will understand the importance of the diversity of the local education landscape and will decide to support, together with the state, also schools that use alternative pedagogical methods.
Sibul said that the compromise agreement made for three years will allow for a further discussion to find a system where all schools are part of the school network and the financing of pupils from taxpayer’s funds would be done on the same bases regardless of the form of ownership.
Aru said that, for the moment, the compromise gives peace under these conditions and a possibility to look for all the answers that we do not have today to issues in the field of education. The compromise made also gives the possibility for local governments to think of private schools as part of the school network.
After review of the motions to amend, the Riigikogu voted on the motion of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party to suspend the second reading of the Bill. 13 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the motion and 48 were against. Thus, the motion was not supported and the second reading of the Bill was concluded.
Today the Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu made a political statement in the Riigikogu on the implementation of the programme for reducing the volume of legislative drafting. Reinsalu said that the aim was to reduce the volume of legislative drafting in Estonia and to slow down the pace of mass production of Acts.
Reinsalu stressed that, in the plan for legislative drafting, three criteria have been set out clearly that should serve as guidance. They are the preparation of the legislative intent, the impact analysis and, in important cases, also the ex-post assessment of a draft Act.
He pointed out that, in 2014, of the 398 Acts that were in force, 319 had been amended; 247 of 380 Acts had been amended in 2015. Of the 380 Acts that were in force as at 1 January this year, 170 new versions have been published already.
During the debate, Toomas Vitsut took the floor on behalf of the Estonian Centre Party Faction, Raivo Aeg on behalf of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction, Jüri Adams on behalf of the Free Party Faction, Igor Gräzin on behalf of the Reform Party Faction and Andres Anvelt on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction. The speakers discussed problems relating to legislative drafting.
The Riigikogu passed two Acts:
The Riigikogu passed with 74 votes in favour the Act on Amendments to the State Pension Insurance Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (199 SE), initiated by the Government. The main aim of the Act is to ensure pension rights with certain restrictions also to persons who have moved outside Estonia, upon realisation of old-age risk or the risk of loss of a provider.
The Act amends the State Pension Insurance Act and the special Acts regulating pensions with the aim of extending the payment of state pensions with certain restrictions to all foreign states. Under the current national law, a person has to reside in Estonia to receive a state pension. At present, state pensions are paid outside Estonia only in the member states of the European Union and the European Free Trade Association on the basis of European Union Regulations, and in countries with whom Estonia has a bilateral agreement on social security. The Act eliminates the restriction on place of residence and extends the rights of persons.
The Riigikogu passed with 71 votes in favour the Act on Amendments to the Food Act and the Act on Amendments to the Food Act (198 SE), initiated by the Government, which specifies the obligation to notify of the placing on the market of food for particular nutritional uses. For the present, such food includes infant formula and follow-on formula, and food for special medical purposes. The Act is planned to enter into force on 20 July this year. As of that date, the Veterinary and Food Board will not have to be notified of gluten-free and lactose-free food, and food intended for sportspeople. Also, operators of food for particular nutritional uses will no longer be required to notify the Veterinary and Food Board whether the food for particular nutritional uses has already been placed on the market of another Member State earlier. The amendment will reduce the administrative burden of the persons responsible for placing on the market of food for particular nutritional uses. The regulation concerns circa 30 persons responsible for placing on the market of food for particular nutritional uses.
Besides the Bill on Amendments to the Private Schools Act, the Youth Work Act and the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, six other Bills passed the second reading in the Riigikogu:
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.
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, the Infectious Animal Disease Control Act will be amended, taking into account the experience gained in the prevention and control of African swine fever from 2014 until today. 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, will be specified.
The requirements for keeping animals susceptible to infectious animal diseases will be tightened. 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.
Member of the Rural Affairs Committee Lauri Luik said that the motions to amend that had been approved in the Committee concerned activity licences, and they concerned language and the rules of legislative drafting. The motion to amend concerning the prohibition of kosher and halal slaughter, submitted by the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction, had not found support in the Committee. Luik noted that such slaughters can be done only in slaughterhouses that have obtained the relevant licence and that have been approved, and kosher slaughter is permitted in Estonia only for a particular community. He said that so far no slaughterhouse has applied for the relevant licence in Estonia, and kosher or halal slaughter has not been used officially in Estonia over the last five years.
Ivari Padar from the Social Democratic Party Faction took the floor during the debate.
The Bill on Amendments to the Tobacco Act (206 SE), initiated by the Government, will transpose the new European Union Tobacco Directive which approximates the laws and regulations of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products. The Bill will amend the Tobacco Act by adding the requirements for the marketing of electronic cigarettes and nicotine-containing refill liquid for electronic cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes must not contain nicotine in excess of 20 mg/ml, and they must deliver nicotine doses at consistent levels. Nicotine-containing liquid must not contain additives such as vitamins or other additives that create the impression that the product has a health benefit or presents reduced health risks. The Bill will establish a prohibition on cross-border distance sales of tobacco products and tobacco related products.
The Radiation Bill (169 SE), initiated by the Government, has been drafted within the framework of codification of environmental law, and the aim of the Bill is to organise the current law and to make the regulations more understandable to the addressees. The content of the regulation will mostly remain the same compared with the current Act, but some amendments and specifications have also been made.
Member of the Environment Committee Meelis Mälberg said that the motions to amend the Bill mostly concerned the rules of legislative drafting and had been drafted with the aim of improving the structuring of the Bill and the definition of terms and the references, and ensuring that the content of the structural units corresponded to headings.
The Bill on Amendments to the Courts Act and Other Associated Acts (203 SE), initiated by the Government, will change the procedure for becoming a judge in order to make finding new judges more flexible. It is also intended to increase the horizontal movement between regulated legal fields so that judges, prosecutors and sworn advocates will have the possibility to become members of other regulated legal fields pursuant to the simplified procedure, without taking an examination testing legal knowledge.
Member of the Constitutional Committee Andres Anvelt said that the general aim of the Bill was to simplify the employment of judges in their offices, because few people have participated in the last competitions for judges, the average age of judges is rising, and this is a serious problem for the legal system of the state.
Anvelt pointed out the motion to amend according to which chairmen of the courts of first instance and the courts of appeal will be appointed to office for seven years and not for five years. Law clerks will be appointed to office for three years, and this can be extended by agreement of the parties. Also, additional holiday days depending on the length of service will be provided for in the statute of judges. The provisions concerning the amendment of the Bar Association Act were omitted from the Bill.
The aim of the Bill on Amendments to § 13 of the National Defence Act (209 SE), initiated by the National Defence Committee, is to provide in the National Defence Act the obligation of the Government of the Republic to notify also the President of the Republic, in addition to the Riigikogu, of a decision to increase the defence readiness.
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 make the changes related to the work ability reform 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.
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 amendments are planned to be enforced simultaneously with the Work Ability Allowance Act.
Member of the National Defence Committee Johannes Kert, who presented the Bill, pointed out that there are 76 persons who receive work ability allowance, and among them are persons who have been injured in military service, including in the regions where missions are carried out, and in trainings of the Estonian Defence League.
Five Bills and draft Resolutions passed the first reading:
The Draft Resolution of the Riigikogu “Use of the Defence Forces in the Fulfilment of the International Commitments of the Estonian State in the International Military Operation “Inherent Resolve”” (244 OE), submitted by the Government, will decide on the participation of up to 10 Estonian servicemen in the US-led international military operation “Inherent Resolve” against Daesh/ISIL.
When presenting the draft Resolution, the Minister of Defence Hannes Hanso said that the US-led international military operation “Inherent Resolve” against Daesh/ISIL had been launched on 15 June 2014. The Minister asked the Riigikogu for a mandate until the end of this year.
“We cannot be a country that only consumes security; we must contribute correspondingly,” Hanso said.
The Minister said that the aim of the operation was direct and supporting military action against Daesh, in the first place in Iraq and Syria. However, elements and headquarters leading and supporting the operation are also located in Bahrein, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. An important task of the operation is the training of the Iraqi security forces.
At first, Estonia is planning to contribute by sending up to 6 infantry instructors to Iraq, where they would train Iraqi security forces units in cooperation with servicemen from Denmark, US, Latvia and other countries. Estonia will participate primarily with staff officers within the framework of this mandate as necessary.
The Bill on Amendments to the Victim Support Act (236 SE), initiated by the Government, will improve the system for assisting victims of violence in order to ensure protection and support based on their needs to victims, and to specify the payment of compensations.
When presenting the Bill, the Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna said that the awareness of victims has increased. In his words, today we notice violence and respond to it much more than we used to. Only some years ago, family violence was regarded as internal matter of the family, and people did not dare to speak about it.
The Bill will ensure access to services to victims of violence against women, and sustainable funding of the services, which will lead to improved consistency and quality of the services.
The existence and sustainable offering of such specialised services is also a precondition upon accession to the Istanbul Convention but the current Act does not provide for special services for victims of violence against women. In assisting victims of trafficking in human beings, the aim is to ensure early identification of victims, and assistance not only during the criminal proceedings but also sufficiently early before the criminal proceedings, thereby allowing more efficient identification and bringing criminal offenders to justice. In regard to sexually abused minors, the aim is to ensure assistance to victims before the submission of a report on a criminal offence and, if necessary, also when criminal proceedings are not commenced.
The Act is planned to enter into force as of 1 January 2017.
The Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur presented to the Riigikogu the Emergency Bill (205 SE), initiated by the Government, which will change the field of vital services. He brought examples of emergencies, listing natural disaster, epidemic industrial, accident, etc.
The Minister said that Estonia, like all other developed countries, aims to create a crisis management system that does not deal with everyday events but focuses on large-scale events with severe consequences, that is, emergencies.
In the Minister’s words, the Emergency Bill will create clarity as to who analyses risks and prevents emergencies, and how it is done. The Bill will also specify the organisation of the resolving of emergencies, and how to ensure the continuous operation of vital services.
For resolving a long-term interruption, with severe consequences, in vital services, an emergency response plan will have to be prepared in the future. In the Bill, an emergency response plan is a cooperation agreement in which the authority co-ordinating the resolving of an emergency and the parties involved in the resolving agree on how they resolve an emergency. The general principles of the management of the resolving of an emergency and of cooperation will be set out in a Government Regulation. The Bill provides for a more extensive risk communication, that is, informing of inhabitants of the threats and hazards causing emergencies and of the potential consequences of an emergency.
The Bill on Amendments to the Environmental Charges Act (233 SE), initiated by the Government, will specify the principles of imposing the natural resource charges and will highlight more clearly the charge based on the value of the natural resources belonging to the state.
The Minister of the Environment Marko Pomerants presented the Bill. The Bill will differentiate the bases for establishing environmental charges for mineral resources used for energy production, such as oil shale and peat, form the bases for establishing environmental charges for other mineral resources that are used in construction. According to the Bill, oil shale and peat will be charged for on the basis of the market value of the energy products or replacement products made from them. This will allow the Government to establish a system for charging state revenue for energy mineral resources that will be dependent on the market value of the energy product. The price of energy products has been very changeable in recent years. The world market price of oil was very high from 2012 to 2014 which also brought about high state revenue from the oil shale sector. As the charging of state revenue had been provided for in advance for every year, the state did not charge all the possible revenue for its resources in these years. In the last couple of years, however, the price level of energy carriers has dropped very low. It has therefore become important for the state that the system of charging state revenue for these mineral resources would allow for taking sufficient account of the market situation. For this reason it has been analysed how to interconnect the system of collecting the resource charge and the market price. In addition, the minimum rate of environmental charges for oil shale and peat will be reduced in the Act as of July 2015 to the level that would serve as compensation for the disturbance accompanying extraction in the local region. It will be accrued by local governments. The remaining share will be received in the state budget. The level for that will be established in view of receiving the state revenue to the extent of which it will be possible for the Government to implement the system dependent on the market price. Besides that, the Bill will retroactively repeal the use of increased coefficients of ambient air pollution charges in selected regions as of 1 January 2016.
The Bill on Amendments to the Water Act (243 SE), initiated by the Government, will specify the providing of information relating to bodies of groundwater in water management plans. The Bill will transpose the amendments to the EU Groundwater Directive. The Minister of the Environment Marko Pomerants who presented the Bill said that, according to the Bill, information concerning every exceedance of pollutant content will have to be pointed out in the water management plan. Thanks to specified data, it will be possible to compare the condition of bodies of groundwater in Member States, to harmonise the methodologies for the evaluation of the pollutant content, and to plan more specific activities to protect groundwater. The state reviews the water management plans every six years.
Two Bills and a draft Resolution were dropped from the proceedings of the Riigikogu:
The Bill on Amendments to the State Legal Aid Act (210 SE), initiated by the Centre Party Faction, which provided for depriving the courts of the possibility to automatically return an application for state legal aid submitted in another language.
The representative of the Estonian Centre Party Faction Dmitri Dmitrijev, who took the floor during the debate, asked for support for the Bill.
The Legal Affairs Committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. The Chairman of the Committee Heljo Pikhof pointed out as the reason that the text of the Bill was deficient and needed correction. 42 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of the motion of the Committee and 26 were against, and there were 3 abstentions. Thus the Bill was dropped from the proceedings.
The Bill on Amendments to the Income Tax Act (218 SE), initiated by the Free Party Faction, was intended to change the current tax system. The Chairman of the Finance Committee Remo Holsmer said that the Committee did not support the Bill, because the Government was already planning to increase the exemption deductible from income, without raising the income tax rate, to 205 euro per month over the next three years.
Kadri Simson, who took the floor on behalf of the Centre Party faction in the debate, and representative of the Estonian Free Party Faction Andres Herkel supported the Bill. The representative of the Social Democratic Party Faction Kalvi Kõva said that his faction could not support the Bill.
The Finance Committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. 45 members of the Riigikogu were in favour of the motion and 27 were against, and there was one abstention. Thus the Bill was dropped from the proceedings.
The Draft Resolution of the Riigikogu “Making a Proposal to the Government of the Republic in connection with the Sphere of National Payment Instruments” (216 OE), submitted by the Free Party Faction, was not passed in the Riigikogu. It had been intended to make a proposal to the Government to conduct an in-depth analysis and auditing in the sphere of the credit and debit cards of state authorities in order to identify problems with the issuing and use of payment instruments.
During the debate, Artur Talvik took the floor on behalf of the Free Party Faction.
23 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the passage of the draft Resolution and 8 were against. Thus the Resolution was not passed.
The sitting ended at 10.07 p.m.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
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