Dr. Calahorra studies some dramatic changes in the ways legislation is conducted in Israel
Politicians, whether they be ordinary MPs and or government ministers (GMs), compete on the ability to influence policy outcomes. After elections and the formation of government, they do that through legislation ("Competition through Legislation"), in parliamentary democracies that allow such competition. This is a two-stage competition: the initiation of a bill – drafting the bill and filing it with parliament’s administration – and the actual legislation of the bill. It is not always competition between two conflicting policy goals. Sometimes both MPs and the GMs propose very similar bills, which wish to advance the same policy goal in similar ways, and sometimes they propose bills with conflicting goals. It is an unfair and unequal competition, as usually the rules of the legislative procedure usually favor the government’s bills (GBs) over those of the MPs (PMBs).
In most countries where competition through legislation is theoretically possible it does not take place in fact. In Israel, it does. What makes Israel interesting and possibly unique is not only the enormous number of bills initiated, according to the Knesset's National Legislation Data, (6642 bills during 4 years of the 20th Knesset, 2015-2019) but also the fact that 90% of the bills were Private Members' Bills (PMBs), and only 9% were Government Bills. Even more interesting is the fact that 88% of the PMBs (5317) did not even make it to the preliminary stage of legislation, and only 4% (246) actually passed the third reading and became law. The Government was more successful, with 57% of its bills becoming law (359 out of 595), but still, in total, only 9% of the bills proposed during the 20th Knesset actually became law.
The Data further shows a consistent rise in the total number of bills that had been submitted to the Knesset over the years, with an exponential rise in the number of PMBs, from less than a dozen in the 1st Knesset in 1949 to more than 6000 the 20th Knesset. The number of GBs, has more than doubled to almost 600. Until the 80’s (10th Knesset), the majority of the submitted bills were GBs but since then, a decisive majority of the bills is PMBs. The government has grown less successful in legislating GBs over the years: from 92% in average until the 80’s to 55% in the 2000’s. The total success rate of legislation, of all origins, has dropped from 87% in average in the 50’s to 10% in average since the 90’s.
There are many possible explanations for this phenomena: The transfer of government from Labor to Likud in 1977; The rise of judicial activism in the early 80’s; The changes in the electoral system; The rise and fall of democratic internal party candidate selection; The introduction of the human rights Basic Laws and the constitutional revolution; The weakness of other parliamentary tools; The gradual weakening of the government due to the reduction in size of the coalition; The gradual rise in the power of the Knesset's committees.
By using Israel as a test-case, and theories on government’s agenda setting powers and the way that vote seeking and coalition considerations affect legislation, I will try to answer such questions as: What factors affect the competition between MPs and GMs through legislation (agenda setting powers, vote-seeking, coalition agreements)? What are the incentives of a GM to initiate a bill and to see it through the legislative process in comparison to those of an MP (from the opposition or from the coalition)?
The Israeli test-case can also help answer questions such as what are the advantages and disadvantages of competition through legislations. On the one hand, it promotes pluralism, facilitates cooperation between different sides of the political map and promotes social consensus. It can also circumvent obstacles to legal reforms in a certain field, regulatory capture of GMs. However, legislative competition has also shortcomings. It delays the legislation of government bills, forces the government and Parliament to waste resources on legislation that deals with issues that the public considers to be of low priority or on bills that are in fact mere declaration, and attempts to promote changes in policy contrary to the policy of the majority.
Further research is needed to answer the question what changes, if any, should be made to the Israeli legislative process as a result of this analysis.