COVID-19 draft law conceptually supported by Saeima

The Saeima in the first reading conceptually supported and acknowledged as urgent a draft law intending to regulate the situation of COVID-19 in Latvia after the end of emergency on June 9, Latvian Radio reported on June 4. 

Informally called "great urgency" is a process indicated in the Constitution that the Saeima, by a majority of no less than two thirds, accepts the urgency of a law. In such a case, the President of Latvia should announce the draft law no later than the third day after receiving it.

69 members voted for the law to be viewed as urgent.

The draft law aims to establish a framework for the prevention and management of the threat posed by COVID-19 pandemic after the end of the emergency, while specific measures and support will still be needed. The new law takes over the norms of the COVID-19 law, adopted in emergency circumstances, and includes a new framework.

The draft law provides that support for citizens and entrepreneurs affected by the COVID-19 crisis will remain until the end of the year, but the downtime benefit program will subside after June 30. Finance Minister Jānis Reirs (New Unity) explained this with the fact that the number of applications for downtime benefits has fallen. It is also apparent from the legislative framework that taxpayers affected by COVID-19 will have the right to apply for extension of tax period by December 30. Local governments have the right to set other deadlines for payment of real estate tax this year. 

The bill drew criticism from opposition members and they pledged to bring proposals to the second reading. 

Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis (Harmony) stated that the draft law is not acceptable in the current format, the state's "expansive fiscal policy" for COVID-19 can only be overcome with strict legislative control. 

Igors Pimenovs (Harmony) called it an "eclectic bill". He expressed support for suspension of fiscal discipline laws this year and next year. At the same time, he said that the draft law should be treated in the same way as the State's annual budget law because of substantial spending. 

"The bill gives the government disproportionate powers and cannot be tolerated," Pimenovs said. 

Māris Kučinskis (ZZS) said that "we have lived up to par" in the crisis, however, the draft law has worried him and he urges for corrections. Kučinskis along with his colleagues was concerned whether the additional two billion earmarked for economic recovery would be used for the right purposes. He said, though, he trusted Finance Minister Jānis Reirs.

A number of Coalition Members acknowledged that changes and many proposals are likely to be made to the draft law.

“Despite the concerns - they will certainly be addressed at second reading - I call for support of the draft legislation at first reading," said Bondars. 


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