Private Member Bills: A Review and Recommendations

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Flash 90

Since the early 2000s, we have seen an unusual rise (relative to earlier assemblies and to other parliaments around the world) in the number of private member bills submitted to the Knesset. This trend became pronounced in the 20th Knesset – the last active Knesset as of the time of this writingIt is important to note that though the 21st and 22nd Knesset assemblies were very short, at just five months each, the members of each, -submitted large numbers of private member’s bills. In the course of the 21st Knesset, 554 such bills were put forward, of which just two were passed (the Dissolution of the 21st Knesset Law and the 22nd Knesset Elections Law), while during the 22nd Knesset, 1,420 private member’s bills were submitted, of which only three were passed (the Dissolution of the 22nd Knesset Law, the 23nd Knesset Elections Law, and the 52nd Amendment to the Basic Law: The State Economy). By way of comparison, the government submitted just three bills during the 21st Knesset, one of which was passed into law, and another three bills during the 22nd Knesset, all of which were passed.. A total of 6,018 private member bills were submitted over that Knesset term, compared with 595 government bills and 29 bills submitted by Knesset committees.

A more in-depth examination reveals huge gaps with regard to the percentage of bills that become signed into law: while 60% of government bills and 69% of committee-sponsored bills were passed by the Knesset, the same was true of only 4% of private member’s bills. In other words, the vast majority of private member bills are merely declarative, in that they are designed to issue a statement that will attract public and media attention rather than to encourage debate, and are certainly not intended to be passed into law.

There are multiple drawbacks to the submission of thousands of private member bills , expressed both within and beyond the parliamentary arena. These include: growing disparagement of private member bills; striking a blow to both the quality and the implementation of laws, due to the fact that member of the Knesset (MKs) are in many cases more focused on the volume of legislation than on its quality; waste of the professional resources of the Knesset and the government; flooding of Knesset committees with private member bills and increasing their workload; and the inability of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to conduct serious discussions on such a large number of bills, given the limited amount of time allotted to such discussions. 

Private Member’s Bills Submitted and Passed: the 20th Knesset

Source: National Legislation Database

A comparison between the various Knesset terms from the late 1970s onward reveals that the largest number of private member bills was submitted in the 20th Knesset. By contrast, over the years, there has been a drop in the percentage of private member bills ultimately passed into law, stabilizing at an average of around 5% over the last seven Knesset terms, compared with –for example--approximately 35% during the Ninth Knesset. This indicates that the large increase in private member bills has been mainly driven by "declarative bills" (that their initiators did not mean to promote the first place).

Private Member’s Bills Submitted and Passed: 9th Knesset to 20th Knesset

Source: National Legislation Database; Ministry of Justice Legal Counsel and Legislative Affairs, 2017

The number of private member’s bills submitted to the Israeli parliament is unprecedented in comparison with other democratic countries, , as can be seen from the data below covering the period from 2000 to 2018.

Number of Private Member’s Bills Submitted to Parliament,1998–2018

Israel is also a world leader in terms of the number of laws passed, which originated in private member’s bills.

Laws Passed in Various Parliaments Originating in Private Member’s Bills, 1998–2018

In light of these findings, we recommend the following:

• Imposing a limit of four bills per Knesset session (parliamentary year). This will allow the Knesset Research and Information Center and the Knesset Legal Department to provide higher quality, faster, and more extensive service to Knesset members.

• Limiting the number of private member bills presented for preliminary discussion to 15 per week (around half the current number).

• Requiring the initiators of private member bills to include in the explanatory note of the bill details on projected costs, and an assessment of the operational implications, not only for children’s rights but also for society in general, the environment, international treaties to which Israel is a signatory, and so on. 

• Following a reduction in the number of private member bills, we recommend:

A) That such bills—while still at the draft stage, and before they are discussed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation—should be passed on to the relevant government ministry for a professional opinion to be prepared.

B) That any MK whose private member bill is not approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation should be allowed to appear personally before the committee and plead his or her case.

• Allocating “legislative advisors” from the Knesset Research and Information Center to help Knesset members improve the quality of their bills as much as possible and to provide them with information from relevant sources in government ministries.

• Requiring the Knesset Presidium to examine the explanatory note accompanying bills before submitting them for discussion by the Knesset plenum, and reject bills that do not meet the criteria which will be set on this matter.

• Requiring the Chairs of all Knesset committees to hold follow-up discussions, once every session, on instituting regulations to support the implementation of laws that were approved by their committee, along with other steps necessary to insure proper implementation. In every Knesset session, the committee should produce a report presenting all the laws it has advanced for which regulations have yet to be instituted, or whose implementation in practice has not yet begun.

• Prioritizing the discussion of government bills in Knesset committees on one of the committee discussion days each week.

• Promoting the approval of the Basic Law: Legislation. Israel is currently the only democracy in which the legislative powers of its parliament have not yet been defined in basic legislation or in a constitution.