Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) says he hopes a bill which would give the Riigikogu a greater role in imposing restrictions during a pandemic situation will pass at the very same Riigikogu, by the autumn at the latest.
Restrictions issued in response to Covid have generally been issued by executive order up until now.
The bill would also grant the Chancellor of Justice adequate legal basis to assess the constitutionality and legality of a government regulation and make proposals where necessary, or apply to the Supreme Court if these proposals were not taken into account – a clear change from the current situation, ERR reports.
The existing legislation, the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act, colloquially known by its Estonian acronym NETS, will be amended to bring clarity, minister Kiik said, adding the government would still, however, retain the option to limit participant numbers at events or impose face-mask-wearing restrictions in the event of a pandemic.
Kiik says he believes the bill, drafted by the social affairs ministry, will pass at the Riigikogu, given that at its first reading (of three), only 18 MPs at the 101-seat chamber voted against it.
The new procedure under the bill would see the government approve any new restrictions not prescribed by law, and send these to the Riigikogu, which would in turn approach the relevant committee, usually the social affairs committee but also the legal committee, to sound out their assessment and opinion before voting.
Supreme Court judge Ivo Pilving noted that recommendations from the Supreme Court. would be just that; it would be up to parliament whether and to what extent to listen to and implement these. These recommendations were that the bill would need to include provisions on how precise conditions for imposing restrictions on the part of the government would be set
Feedback on the bill also included support from medical associations, though the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eesti Kaubandus-Tööstuskoda) found the draft too abstract, though it agreed with the principle.
Pilving noted that the more restrictive a right, the more intense and long-lasting that restriction would tend to be, meaning such restrictions – which he defined as, for instance, travel and Covid passport restrictions – should be limited.
The imposition of harsher restrictions should not be placed in the hands of state agencies like the Health Board (Terviseamet) she said, as assessing their impact – for instance economic losses in the case of hotel and restaurant closures, or schoolchildren missing out on their fundamental right to and need for education in the case of school closures – is beyond the competency of such agencies.
Previous amendments to the NETS which gave the Health Board and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) greater powers in enforcing adherence to restrictions met with several protests in 2020 and 2021.
Editor: Andrew Whyte