MKs advance bill allowing ministers to enact virus measures without Knesset okay
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MKs advance bill allowing ministers to enact virus measures without Knesset okay

Under proposal, new restrictions will take effect immediately and only be rescinded if lawmakers fail to approve them within 7 days

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on May 17, 2020, as their new coalition was sworn in. (Knesset)
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on May 17, 2020, as their new coalition was sworn in. (Knesset)

A bill that would let the government impose coronavirus restrictions immediately and only later seek Knesset approval passed its first reading in the parliament on Monday evening.

Passed with the support of 45 lawmakers and opposed by 35, the bill must still go through a Knesset committee and pass two more readings before it becomes law.

The government is looking to fast-track the bill, unveiled Monday afternoon, in order to immediately impose blanket restrictions on gatherings and other rules intended to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The legislation process is expected to be completed overnight.

Under the proposed law, the government could put a rule into effect and it would only be rescinded if the Knesset fails to approve the measure or does not vote on it within seven days.

Under the current rules, government decisions must be approved by the coronavirus committee or another relevant panel, which can delay implementation by a day or more. Under the new measure, if a committee refuses to deal with the measure in a timely manner, it would move to the full Knesset plenum for a vote.

A man walks by closed shops in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market on June 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Critics say the law would remove a key check on the government’s power.

“This law would provide the government with far too much leeway and would exempt it from the necessary parliamentary oversight,” said researcher Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute.

“Overcoming COVID-19 is indeed a significant challenge that demands flexibility from the government, yet democratic process and genuine debate in the Knesset are not ‘burdens’ on the cabinet,” he added in a statement. “Knesset debates are not only an important tool in safeguarding civil rights, but also in obtaining the public’s trust. Passing this law in such a hasty manner will have the opposite effect and such dramatic decisions must be approved by the Knesset made with full parliamentary oversight.”

The government has been criticized for making hasty decisions on lockdowns and other restrictions, sometimes based on faulty data, and for failing to adequately prepare agencies carrying out the measures or failing to warn residents in time, leading to confusion and complaints of unclear instructions.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also reportedly warned ministers that Israel needs to be able to quickly enact guidelines if they are to be effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, he said the government was looking into legislation that would cut bureaucracy and oversight surrounding decisions on lockdown measures.

Police officers patrol in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on July 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier Monday, the cabinet passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed coronavirus outbreak, including limits on crowds in restaurants, synagogues and on public transportation, while also shuttering event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.

Pending approval from the Knesset’s coronavirus committee, the decision by the cabinet limits restaurants to 20 customers in indoor areas and 30 people in outdoor areas, with tables set at a distance from one another.

All public gatherings will be capped at 20 people, with participants required to wear face masks and keep a distance of two meters between one another.

Summer camps and summer schools will not go ahead except for kindergarten kids and grades 1-4, according to the cabinet decision. Buses will only be allowed to carry 20 passengers at a time, with open windows and no air conditioning.

At least 30 percent of employees in the public sector will be required to work from home.

The decision also states that within 48 hours, the Finance Ministry must introduce a compensation package for those harmed by the new regulations.

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