The Riigikogu's social affairs committee has approved a bill which would amend existing legislation in order to grant the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) more scope in ensuring compliance with coronavirus restrictions. The bill had been the focus of protests in Tallinn, culminating in the detention of several people the Sunday before last.
Amendments which have been made to the bill largely concern the size of potential fines to coronavirus regulations violators – these have been cut substantially.
Committee chair Siret Kotka (Center) proposed the bill, which will amend the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act, commonly known by its Estonian acronym NETS, be approved at a second reading, on May 4.
Kotka said much of the opposition to the NETS amendments had been based on misinformation.
She said: "I consider it very important that misinformation and groundless fears do not propagate in society. The talk that the PPA and the Health Board will be granted a slew of new rights is not true.
Both authorities had already possessed the rights in question, she said, adding that the need for the legislation amend was to streamline procedures, both making PPA/Health Board interaction more flexible and, so far as the police is concerned, more independent also.
"Both the Health Board and the police have always had these rights, under the Law Enforcement Act. The draft allows the PPA to assist the Health Board as little as possible and as much as necessary," Kotka went on.
This interface would include the right for Health Board (Terviseamet) personnel to apply to the PPA for assistance where needed – something which did indeed happen on the Sunday, April 11 protests at Vabaduse väljak – and, equally, the PPA's right to decline to attend if it saw fit.
"The goal of NETS is very simple – to give the police, in complementing the Health Board, the right to carry out COVID-19 surveillance inspections independently from the beginning to the end. If an individual ignores the restrictions set by the Health Board, the police can process this," Kotka said.
Kotka also said that the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), the main political opponents of the NETS amendments as they had been publicly disseminated, had withdrawn its 127 amendments.
EKRE committee member: Compromise on NETS was reached
Kert Kingo, an EKRE MP who sits on the same committee with Kotka, confirmed that this had been the case, given a compromise which had been reached with the coalition parties and which rendered the amendments irrelevant.
"[The bill] was formulated in exactly the right way for us," Kingo said. Of an additional 39 amendments tabled by a single EKRE MP, Kalle Grünthal, five remained extant, Kingo added.
Siret Kotka said that the motivating force behind the law change had been setting things up so that law enforcement is only involved in emergency situations and emergencies relating to a pandemic, while the say on this involvement was to emanate from the government of the day. This would ensure that society had trust in these authorities, and felt safe, she said.
Other details of the draft include amendments which reduced fines for potential violators. These have been halved in the case of individuals, to 100 units, and cut by even more than that, to €13,000 (from €32,000) for legal persons (meaning companies – ed.) ERR reports.
Discussions on the proportionality of the PPA response and even the size and nature of its presence at Vabaduse väljak on April 11 have continued down to the present. That the protests were held at that location was partly the result of barriers installed on Toompea, seat of the Riigikogu, in the preceding week, in an effort to ensure social distancing.
Editor: Andrew Whyte