Fri, Jul 22, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Considering debate rules missing in legislature

By Lo Chuan-hsien 羅傳賢

During the last meeting of this year’s first legislative session on Friday last week, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus proposed a vote on each of the 276 items on the floor agenda in an attempt to block the passage of a draft bill on ill-gotten party assets that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is pushing.

The dragged-out voting procedure blocked the bill’s passage.

Be it legislative or other matters, democratic parliaments proceed through debate. In exercising their freedom of speech, US senators can speak for an unlimited time in what is called a “filibuster.” Senators from minority parties who are unable to block a bill or who want to achieve a certain goal give marathon speeches — during which they are not allowed to eat or even go to the bathroom — in order to block a bill from going to a vote.

US Senator Strom Thurmond set the filibuster record in 1957, when he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an attempt to block the US’ Civil Rights Act. In 1975, the US Senate changed its rules so that a filibuster can be ended, which is called “cloture,” through a vote by three-fifths of all senators.

In a more recent example, a South Korean opposition senator in March spoke for 11 hours and 39 minutes in an attempt to block anti-terrorism legislation.

A filibuster in the US House of Representatives can be brought to an end by a simple majority, while the House of Commons in the UK requires that an address must be directly related to the bill under discussion, with the result that similar situations do not occur there.

In the Legislative Yuan, the speaker announces how long a lawmaker can speak for, and if that time is exceeded, the lawmaker is interrupted by the speaker. Filibusters are replaced by occupations of the speaker’s podium or other methods to paralyze the agenda.

In 1999, the New Party rallied 25 lawmakers to propose a bill that put pressure on the KMT and then-legislative speaker Liu Sung-pan (劉松藩), as the legislature was about to pass five bills regulating the workings of the legislature. They did so to persuade Liu and the KMT to include caucus regulations in the Act Governing the Exercise of Legislative Power (立法院職權行使法) and the legislative agenda rules that were in line with the Organic Law of the Legislative Yuan (立院組織法).

According to the proposed rules, a legislative caucus would be allowed to propose a bill — unless barred by the Constitution — thus removing restrictions on the number of lawmakers required to sign a draft bill or motion.

This means that caucuses can make proposals without requiring 20 signatures on motions, 15 signatures on legal bills and revotes, and 10 signatures for other proposals. A stamp is held by a caucus officials so that the official, without caucus confirmation, can fill in paperwork and give caucus approval. This is both simple and convenient.

However, this is also the reason there are frequent motions for reconsideration, requests for caucus talks or revotes on proposals, as the arrangement is being increasingly abused. The use of a huge amount of proposals to block the party assets bill is an even rarer event, and the lack of restriction on proposals a party caucus can submit must be discussed.

To increase the scientific and democratic foundation for decisionmaking, the legislative agenda should be focused on debate. The merit of legislative debates should be decided by rational means and not by abusing caucus proposal rights and obstructing the agenda. The legislature must establish debate rules as soon as possible.

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