The COVID-19 pandemic has raised serious challenges not only for scientists who are working on finding a cure and developing a vaccine, and for medical personnel who take care of the sick, but also for policymakers. In an effort to stop the spread of the virus, governments around the globe have introduced extraordinary measures, including travel restrictions, containment orders, quarantining or isolating people, surveillance of patients and persons coming into contact with them, and social distancing.
Parliaments have also had to adjust their timetables and processes in order to continue their legislative activities, particularly in terms of addressing needs specifically associated with the impact of COVID-19, including by fulfilling their role of performing parliamentary oversight over governmental actions.
A recently published report, Continuity of Legislative Activities during Emergency Situations in Selected Countries, surveys the laws of 36 foreign jurisdictions on the functioning of legislatures under emergency measures. The report was prepared by staff of the Global Legal Research Directorate.
The existing emergency legislation identified in the countries surveyed, but for Germany, does not designate a subgroup of legislators with devolved powers to respond to these crises. In Germany, when “a state of defense” is declared, a “Joint Committee” may exercise the powers of the Bundestag and Bundesrat as a single body.
The report identified certain arrangements adopted by some countries to minimize the number of physical votes required in times of emergency. These include utilizing videoconferencing and other electronic means, formulating special voting procedures to reduce necessary travel and attendance, and providing new accountability measures in cases where legislative activity has been interrupted. Other arrangements include measures, either current or under consideration, for maintaining legislative operations with fewer members present, while maintaining equal representation (“pairing” or “proxy”). In some countries, legislative activities have been partially and/or temporarily suspended.
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