Israeli Ministers to Mull Coronavirus Emergency Bill That Would Increase Cabinet's Power

The cabinet would be able to repeatedly renew a 30-day state of emergency, but the police would still need a warrant to enter a person's home

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A protest against proposed emergency coronavirus regulations, in Tel Aviv, June 4, 2020.
A protest against proposed emergency coronavirus regulations, in Tel Aviv, June 4, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will consider a bill Sunday that would let the cabinet declare a state of emergency in the fight against the cononavirus pandemic and issue regulations giving the cabinet other wide-ranging powers.

Amid concerns that the government was seeking sweeping powers, the bill was drafted at the request of the High Court of Justice and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. As a result, the response to the pandemic would be governed by regular Knesset legislation that would replace emergency coronavirus regulations.

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On Friday, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced amendments to the proposed text of the bill following consultations with government ministries and the attorney general’s office.

The amendments limit a state of emergency to 30 days, not 45, and make clear that the police still need a court order to enter a person’s home.

The legislation would also empower a Knesset committee, probably the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, to rescind the state of emergency.

The bill gives the cabinet authority to extend the state of emergency for additional 30-day periods, but exempts the courts, the Knesset and the president from the stipulations of the law and associated regulations.

The bill empowers the cabinet to impose a curfew or lockdown on specific homes or neighborhoods, to halt public transportation, limit staffing at places of employment and impose fines on violators of the directives.

Following criticism over the scope of the powers, Justice Minister Nissenkorn said a provision was being added requiring that any regulations issued linked to the legislation would require Knesset approval within a week and that curfews or lockdowns would be limited to a week. Nissenkorn is a member of Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party.

On Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri rejected a request from Labor Party legislator Merav Michaeli to give the public another two weeks to comment on the bill. The comment period is normally 21 days.

In this case, the Prime Minister’s Office initially provided only three days to comment, which included a holiday weekend. Following criticism of the short duration, the Justice Ministry extended the period to a week, which ended Friday.

Nissenkorn is the chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which is meeting Sunday for the first time since the new coalition government was sworn in three weeks ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has veto power over any legislation coming before the panel.

Approval of legislation by the committee signifies that the coalition supports it. Since the coalition has a majority in the Knesset, that essentially ensures the passage of bills in some form once they are approved by the committee.

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