Police powers legislation amends may stall at the Riigikogu

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Protestors at a Tallinn demonstration against the NETS legislation amend. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Controversial legal amends which would beef up police powers may stall in the face of filibustering efforts at the Riigikogu, an opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP says. However, an MP from the coalition Center Party says that the pandemic situation makes delay tactics inappropriate

Draft changes to the  Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control Act (known in Estonian as NETS) and which would give the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) increased powers in enforcing adherence to coronavirus restrictions, in conjunction with the Health Board (Terviseamet) and other authorities, have attracted 169 amendments, all of which need to be considered by the relevant Riigikogu body – the social affairs committee.

Committee chair and Center Party MP Siret Kotka told ERR Tuesday that the bulk of these were from the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) collectively, 39 were from one EKRE MP who has engagaed in anti-restrictions publicity stunts in the past, Kalle Grünthal, while opposition party Isamaa tabled two and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), also in opposition, put up one.

EKRE's representative on the social affairs committee, Kert Kingo, told ERR that she thought the bill's chances of passing were slim.

Kingo said: "At the moment, the Social Affairs Committee is presenting these amendments. And since 347SE (i.e the draft legislation number – ed.) was scheduled to be adopted on May 1, and since we are still at the introduction stage, itself disrupted, it is unlikely that this bill will be adopted at all," adding that it is unlikely to reach its second reading any time soon.

The bill would, if it passed Riigikgou vote assent give the PPA the right to check compliance with restrictions, but only if the Health Board (Terviseamet) summons them to get involved, and only if the PPA agree to take on an incident.

Laws see three readings before being sent for presidential assent, and then entering into effect.

Siret Kotka noted the social affairs committee's role was key in removing public fears about the legislation, and in turn engendering a society where the police are trusted.

As to if and whether the bill will be put before the chamber, Kotka said that she hoped it would, given the inappropriate nature of employing obstructionist tactics during a health care emergency situation, she said.

"I hope common sense will prevail and that we can move forward with it as soon as possible," she said, adding that a more time-critical sick pay compensation component was being transferred to another piece of legislation. This provision would allow for sick pay from day one of a period of illness, but only for a temporary period (i.e. during the pandemic).

Kert Kingo said that the social affairs committee may also hold lengthy, eight-hour meetings to expedite the law, adding that she hoped a compromise between coalition (Reform, Center) and opposition (EKRE, Isamaa, SDE) parties could be reached.

Refrom Party representative on the committee Õnne Pillak said, however, no extraordinary meetings were planned, calling the pace of processing the draft legislation, including amendment proposals, "reasonable".

Either way, Kert Kingo said, the bill is not on the social affairs committee's table this week, adding that her party's stance was to tick all the boxes in terms of legal correctness on enshrining police powers and related activities in the law.

Sunday saw several people detained at a large demonstration against the bill, held in Tallinn. Health Board personnel also issued precepts, acting in concert with PPA officials in a way that the proposed bill would codify and widen.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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