Members of the newly elected Knesset have gotten off to a fast start, proposing 849 bills in their first 20 days on the job.
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Is this a laudable achievement? It depends on whom you ask.
MK Avishay Braverman (Labor) is frustrated by the trend of hyper-legislation. During his seven years in the Knesset, he has seen the media single out one MK per year for “excellence in legislation,” based on the number of bills he or she submitted.
But most of the bills fall by the wayside, with only a few hundred given serious consideration.
“I’m not willing to play by those rules,” said Braverman, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee. “Over the past few years, Knesset members have come to believe that the major criterion of excellence is the number of laws they get passed and how much publicity they receive.”
The previous Knesset was one of the most prolific in history, proposing some 4,600 bills during its term. But only 614 of the bills became law.
Among the failed bills were former MK Carmel Shama Hacohen’s (Likud) proposed ceiling on popcorn prices at movie theatres and MK Orit Zuaretz’s (Kadima) suggestion that business be forbidden from running air conditioners with the windows open.
Shama Cohen says not all bills are intended to become law. “The purpose of some bills is to spur a minister or government to action,” he said. “It’s a tool for setting the agenda and beginning a process. Many bills accomplished something good even if they never became laws in the end.”
Just before leaving office this year, former Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman publicly criticized the number of bills being introduced in the Knesset and suggested MKs focus more on substantial proposals and comprehensive reforms.
“There have never been such a high number of bills proposed in any previous Knesset, and the trend is only continuing,” he said.
One of the most prolific writers of new bills in the previous Knesset, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), dismissed such concerns. “The number of bills an MK proposes doesn’t mean much. Actually, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I’ve just resubmitted my bills that didn’t pass in the previous Knesset. Ninety-nine percent of my bills didn’t pass, and I’m trying again to get them passed."
He says criticism of the increase in private member bills – those proposed by MKs rather than by the government or Knesset committees – is misguided.
“There’s populist and shallow criticism of private-member legislation,” he said. “But most of the social-justice laws, or the green revolution in legislation, originated in private members’ bills. Would the State of Israel be better without such legislation? No, it wouldn’t.”