Report on Senate Activity in 1999

Report on the activity of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic in 1999

The Senate entered into its second period of office with an altered make-up after the elections which took place in November 1998. One third of senators, i.e. 27 electoral constituencies, were involved in the elections. At the first session in December 1998, 14 newly elected senators and 12 senators who had successfully defended their mandate in the second election took the oath. The mandate for senators elected at these elections terminates in 2004.

The last of the senators to be elected, Senator Dagmar Lastovecka, took the oath at the second session of the Senate on 10thMarch on the basis of a ruling made by the Constitutional Court that Dagmar Lastovecka was legally elected in the constituency of Brno-City. The appeal to the Constitutional Court was made by ODS after the Supreme Court allowed an appeal lodged by the Social Democrats against the issue of an election certificate as a result of which the Senate did not verify her mandate.

Senator Vaclav Benda died on 2nd June, and in the subsequent by-election Vaclav Fischer was elected to take his place. He took the senator´s oath at the 10th meeting of the Senate on 16thSeptember.

On 1st July, Act No. 107/1999 Coll. on the Senate Rules of Procedure came into effect, the appropriately amended Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies having been used up until that time.

The Senate came together for thirteen meetings in 1999. In total it ratified 38 international treaties and debated 77 bills. You will find an overall summary of Senate legislative activity here. Of these 77 bills the Senate approved 30. In the case of 19 bills which came up for debate, the Senate expressed the wish not to deal with them (the Amendatory Act on Health Insurance, the Amendatory Act on Lotteries, the Act on the Issue of State Bonds, the Amendatory Act on the Prevention of Alcoholism, the Amendatory Act on the Powers of the Office for the Protection of Economic Competition, the Amendatory Act on the Acquisition and Loss of State Citizenship, the Act on the Insurance and Financing of Exports with State Support, the Act on Measures against Libya, the Act on Measures in Regard to Yugoslavia, the Amendatory Act on the Lease and Sublease of Non-residential Premises, the Act on the Collection of Laws and the Collection of International Treaties, the Act on Asylum, the Amendatory Act on Third Party Motor Liability Insurance, the Amendatory Act on the Technical Conditions for Operating Motor Vehicles, the Amendatory Act on Internal Waterway Navigation, the Amendatory Act on Narcotic Substances Amendatory Acts associated with the passage of the Act on the Social and Legal Protection of Children, the Amendatory Act on Chemical Substances and the Bill on State Bond Schemes to Cover State Debt Principal Due in 2000 and the Czech Republic State Budget Deficit for 1999).

Twenty-two bills were returned to the Chamber of Deputies with proposed amendments. In 17 cases the Chamber of Deputies concurred with the Senate version (the Act on the Senate Rules of Procedure, the Act on Freedom of Information, the Defence Act, the Amendatory Act Associated with the Defence Act, the Act on Professional Soldiers, Amendatory Acts associated with the Act on Professional Soldiers, the Act on Basic or Alternative Service and Military Exercises, the Act on the Provision of Defence for the Czech Republic, the Act on the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, Amendatory Acts associated with the Act on the Provision of Defence for the Czech Republic and the Act on the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, the Bill on Civil Identification Documents, the Bill on Travel Documents, the Bill on the Residence of Foreigners in the Czech Republic, the Bill on Insurance, the Bill on Public Auctions and Amendatory Acts associated with the passage of the Act on Public Auctions and the Bill on Public Procurement.

Another five bills were passed in their original versions by the Chamber of Deputies (the Veterinary Act, the Act on Third Party Motor Liability Insurance and the Bill on the Withdrawal of Additional Salary for the Second Half of 1999 for Representatives of Certain State Bodies and Others, the Amendment to the Railtrack Act and the Bill on Postal Services).

Four bills were rejected by the Senate in 1999 (the Amendatory Act on the Settlement of Property Claims in Cooperatives, the Amendatory Act on Employment, the Amendment to the Criminal Code and the Amendatory Act on Waste). In all four cases the Chamber of Deputies overruled the Senate position.

In two cases the Senate did not adopt any resolution (the Amendatory Act on Consumer Taxes and the Act on the Issue of State Bonds to Cover the State Budget Deficit for 1998).

Overall Summary in 1999

Summary of Bills Returned with Proposed Amendments in 1999

In 1999 the Senate submitted five Senate Bills to the Chamber of Deputies. These were:

  1. The draft Senate Bill to amend Act No. 236/1995 Coll., on Payment and other Matters Associated with the Performance of the Function of Representatives of State Authority and Certain State Bodies and Judges, as subsequently amended – the Chamber of Deputies rejected this bill at the first reading
  2. The draft Senate Bill to amend Act No. 148/1998 Coll., on the Protection of Classified Information and the Amendment of Certain Acts – the Chamber of Deputies also rejected this bill at the first reading
  3. The draft Senate Bill on the Memorial to the Period of Oppression, 1939-1989 – Parliamentary Document No. 450 – referred at the first reading to the Commission for Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Physical Education
  4. The draft Senate Bill amending and supplementing Act No. 247/1995 Coll., on Elections to the Parliament of the Czech Republic, as amended by Act No. 212/1996 Coll. – Parliamentary Document No. 467 – referred at the first reading to the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
  5. The draft Senate Bill amending and supplementing Act No. 172/1991 Coll., on the Transfer of Some Items from the Property of the Czech Republic into the Ownership of Municipalities, as amended by Act No. 485/1991 Coll. and Act No. 10/1993 Coll. – Parliamentary Document No. 468 – postponed during the first reading at the 22nd meeting of the Chamber of Deputies on 24.2 to the next meeting of the Chamber of Deputies.

The President of the Senate was also presented with another two draft Senate Bills:

  1. The draft Senate Constitutional Bill of the Senate Commission on the Constitution of the Czech Republic, amending and supplementing Constitutional Act No. 1/1993 Coll., the Constitution of the Czech Republic, as amended by Constitutional Act No. 347/1997 Coll.
  2. The draft Senate Bill Amendatory Act No. 140/1996 Coll., on the Provision of Access to Files Associated with the Activities of the Former State Security Service, and Act No. 97/1974 Coll., on Archives, as amended by Act No. 343/1992 Coll.

The Senate proceedings were not yet completed at the end of 1999.

Twice that year (once for each half-year), the Senate also dealt with the Report on Petitions submitted to the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, its bodies and officials, with petition details and the manner in which they were settled. This report was presented to the Committee on Human Rights, Science, Education, Culture and Petitions.

Before bills, international treaties or other proposed legislation is included in the Senate meeting agenda, they are dealt with in detail by Senate committees, which pass resolutions recommending that the Senate either adopt the bill in the version provided by the Chamber of Deputies, reject it, express its wish not to deal with it or return it to the Chamber of Deputies with proposed amendments.

The Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is headed by Senator Jiri Vyvadil and has 10 members. Last year it debated 56 bills, 12 international treaties and 5 government bills and it convened for 31 meetings. The Commission established a Subcommittee on the Legal Framework of Public Administration Reforms.

The Committee arranged two public hearings. In April there was a public hearing on “Problems in the Czech Judiciary”, which was followed by a public hearing entitled “Judicial Reform Concepts – Reform of Criminal Proceedings”, bringing together the most prominent representatives from the Czech judiciary and jurisprudence.

The Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security is chaired by Senator Michael Zantovsky and is made up of ten members. The Committee debated 27 bills, 38 international treaties and nine government bills and it held 22 meetings.

Under the auspices of J. Kramek, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security, a seminar took place on 16. 11. 1999 entitled “The Security Community in the Czech Republic”.

The Committee on Human Rights, Science, Education, Culture and Petitions is headed by Senator Irena Ondrova and has ten members. In its 27 meetings the Committee inter alia dealt with 23 bills and seven international treaties. It also established a Cultural Heritage Subcommittee.

In March, a seminar entitled “The Convention on the Rights of Children in the Czech Republic and its Implementation, 1995-1999” organized by the Czech Section of DCI – the Children´s Rights Protection Association, the Czech Helsinki Committee, the Our Child Foundation and the Children in Danger Fund took place in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic under the auspices of the 6thCommittee. A colloquium took place in June entitled “What Culture Can Give Sponsors” followed in November by a colloquium entitled “Effective Sponsorship”. The Committee co-arranged both seminars with the Corona Cultural Sponsorship Association.

A seminar was also held under the auspices of the Committee on “Partnership for Structural Funds” organized by the Central Moravian Community Work Centre.

On 13th October, the Committee and the proponent of the bill organized a public hearing entitled “The Memorial to the Period of Oppression and its Message”.

The Committee on Public Administration, Regional Development and the Environment chaired by Petr Smutny debated 24 bills and two international treaties at 24 meetings. The Committee is made up of eleven members.

On 11th February a working seminar took place entitled: “An Assessment of the Effects of Energy Policy on the Environment – an Analysis of Practical Experience with the Precedent Application of Act No. 244/1992 Coll.” under the auspices of Jitka Seitlova, Deputy Chairwoman of the Committee.

In March, a seminar organized by the Foundation Information Centre took place entitled: “Promoting Group Interests at a Local and Nationwide Level” under the auspices of the Committee.

In May there was a public hearing entitled “A Plan for the Development of Transport Networks in the Czech Republic to 2010 and an Assessment of the Effects of the Implementation of this Policy on the Environment in the Sense of Article 14 of Act No. 244/1992 Coll.”, arranged under the auspices of the Committee by the Institute for Applied Ecology at the Forestry Faculty of the Czech University of Agriculture, Kostelec nad Cernymi Lesy.

The Committee on the National Economy, Agriculture and Transport is chaired by Senator Karel Burda and has eleven members. It dealt with 42 bills and 14 international treaties referred to it and held 32 meetings. The Committee established two subcommittees – the Energy Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Agiculture, Forestry and Water Management.

In January a seminar organized by the National Forestry Commission took place under the auspices of Vladimir Oplt, Deputy Chairman of the Committee, entitled “Forests and Large-scale Protected Areas”.

In June the Committee arranged a “Seminar on Products Required by Czech Regulations to Indicate Compliance” in collaboration with the Czech Electrotechnical Association.

In May a seminar took place in association with the launch of the Energy Subcommittee on “Renewable Energy Sources and the Liberalization of the Czech Electrical Energy Industry”.

In October the Subcommittee arranged a seminar on “The Czech Gas Industry en Route to the European Union”.

The Committee for Health and Social Policy is headed by Senator Frantisek Bartos and has ten members. It debated eleven bills and nine international treaties at 20 meetings.

Three subcommittees were established for an area in which key laws are expected to undergo changes, i.e. the Codes. The Subcommittee on Pension Reform aimed over several months to collate the standpoints of parliamentary parties on key points in the pension system reforms put forward by the government and to divide these into those changes which have majority approval, those which require further discussion and those which do not yet have broad support.

The Subcommittee on Equal Opportunities for the Disabled bases its work on the “National Plan on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Citizens” and focuses on those points which have not yet been implemented and which should result in legislation.

The Subcommittee on Family Policy seeks comments on laws already passed (the Families Act and the Act on the Social and Legal Protection of Children) and at the same time outlines the standpoints of the professional public on which key points should be included in state family policy.

The Committee organized specialist events on the following topicalsubjects:

  • An international conference on “The European Hospital in the 21st Century” and “Is the Era of the Family Coming to an End or Is the Family a Promise of Hope for Our Society?” with “Social Doctrine”,
  • a seminar on the amendment to the Labour Code,
  • public hearings on the Families Act and on patients´ contributions towards medicines.

The Committee on European Integration is headed by Senator Jarmila Filipova and has eleven members. It debated 31 bills, seven international treaties and two government bills at 21 meetings.

On 15th December, a seminar was held under the auspices of the Committee entitled “Patents and Medicines – the Controversy over the Bill on the Protection of Industrial Rights”, involving the argument over the less expensive alternative proposal to deal with patent protection of medicines and a defence of its compatibility with EU law.

The Organizational Committee differs in regard to its authority and range of powers from these Senate Committees as it organizes and coordinates the work of Senate bodies. In particular, it prepares Senate meetings, proposes their date and agenda for the Senate President and assigns bills for debate by Senate committees. The Organizational Committee also approves the foreign liaison schedule for delegations of the Senate, its bodies and senators and proposes rules to the Senate for the economic management of Senators' Clubs for the calendar year. The Organizational Committee has nine members and is headed by the President of the Senate, Libuse Benesova, while other members are the Senate Vice-Presidents and the Chairpersons of the Senators' Clubs. Last year the Organizational Committee came together for 46 meetings and made a total of 253 resolutions.

The Organizational Committee also set up two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on State Awards and the Subcommittee on the Drafting of a Bill Setting out the Principles of Conduct and the Relations between the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate and their Bodies and their External Relations.

The eleven-member Senate Committee on Mandate and Parliamentary Privilege also has specific powers. Until 11th March, it was headed by Senator Jarmila Filipova upon the authorization of the Senate President. Subsequently, Senator Ladislav Svoboda was elected as Committee Chairman in a secret ballot. The Committee had twelve meetings and debated five traffic misdemeanours by senators and one application for the approval of a criminal prosecution against a senator.

On 9th March 1999, the Committee confirmed the validity of the election of Senator Dagmar Lastovecka and on 15thSeptember it confirmed the validity of the election of Senator Vaclav Fischer. On 3rd November, the Committee debated the draft Senate Constitutional Bill to amend and supplement Constitutional Act No. 1/1993 Coll., the Constitution of the Czech Republic, (Senate Document No. 84).

The Committee on Mandate and Parliamentary Privilege maintains records and retains the communications of all functionaries (deputies, members of the government and the heads of central administrative bodies) submitted in accordance with Sections 5, 6 and 7 of Czech National Council Act No. 238/1992 Coll. on Measures Associated with the Protection of the Public Interest, as amended by subsequent legislation. Under Section 8 (2) of this Act, any citizen is permitted upon written application to inspect these communications. Inspection always takes place on the first Monday of the month from 2.30 pm to 4.15 pm. In 1999, a total of 20 journalists took part.

There are also three Commissions at the Senate:

The Senate Permanent Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad. This Commission is headed by Senator Milan Spacek and has eleven members.

The Senate Permanent Commission on Senate Chancellery Activities, which was established as one of the Senate bodies at the first Senate meeting on 22.1.1997. It currently has eleven members and is headed by the Commission Chairman, Senator Karel Korytar.

The Senate Permanent Commission on the Constitution of the Czech Republic. Senator Jiri Stodulka was elected Chairman of the Commission, which has eleven members.

The “Senate” magazine, which first came out in 1997, continued publication throughout 1999. From the outset it has come out regularly every quarter, covering all the activities of the Senate, its bodies and senators, presenting the results of the work of the Senate committees, parliamentary delegations and individual senators and providing information on the course and outcome of debates over bills, international treaties and other proposed legislation. Regular features and individual articles portray the status and role of the Senate within the Czech constitutional and political system with reference to the functions of bicameral parliaments in general. They interpret and comment on contentious provisions of the Constitution, they report on government legislative plans under preparation and so forth.

The distribution list for the Senate magazine comprises several hundred addresses but the magazine is also freely available to the public at the Senate offices. It is distributed to all central state institutions, libraries, schools, media (including regional dailies and weeklies) and to private addresses. The idea of sending one copy to each Czech embassy abroad has also proved very useful and the responses from abroad have been very positive. A number of embassies have requested more copies as information published in the magazine is of use not only to the embassies themselves but also to Czech expatriate associations and editors of expatriate magazines with an interest in political events in the Czech Republic. Since last year, each edition of the magazine has also been available at the Senate Internet site.

Foreign activities of the Senate in 1999 - trips abroad and the reception of foreign visits

In 1999, there were six trips made by the Senate President, ten trips made by Senate Vice-Presidents and one trip made by a Senate delegation headed by the Senate President.

There were also 25 foreign trips made by senators, four trips made by the Permanent Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad, a trip made by a delegation from the Senate Permanent Commission on Senate Chancellery Activities, 37 trips made by members of permanent delegations to interparliamentary organizations - to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for Cooperation with the European Parliament, to the Central European Initiative, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, to the North Atlantic Assembly and to the Assembly of the Western European Union.

The Friends of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic Group, whose first meeting took place on 18.5.1999, also works within the Interparliamentary Union.

On 3rd June, members of the Permanent Delegation of the Parliament of the Czech Republic to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe arranged a colloquium entitled “Will the Council of Europe Survive the Year 2000?” – a consideration of the work and import of the Council of Europe - on the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Council of Europe, under the auspices of Libuse Benesova, President of the Senate.

In 1999, the Czech Republic chaired the Central European Initiative. This imposed the duty on the Parliament of the Czech Republic of arranging the spring session of the Parliamentary Committee and the autumn Parliamentary Conference. The spring session of the Parliamentary Committee took place on Senate premises 6th – 8th June 1999 and the autumn CEI Parliamentary Conference was held on Chamber of Deputies premises 7th – 10th October 1999. Both events were attended by some 60 foreign delegates from 15 countries.

A total of 24 trips were made by Senate Committees.

The Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs made two foreign trips and members of the Committee had four foreign visits.

The Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security made four foreign trips and the Committee had twenty foreign visits.

The Committee on Education, Science, Culture, Human Rights and Petitions made three foreign trips in 1999 while at the invitation of the Committee a delegation from the Committee on Culture and the Media from the National Council of the Slovak Republic visited the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. Members of the Committee received five visits.

The Committee on Public Administration, Regional Development and the Environment made three foreign trips and members of the Committee received several foreign visits.

The Committee on the National Economy, Agriculture and Transport made four foreign trips and the Committee was visited by nine delegations.

The Committee on Health and Social Policy undertook two foreign trips.

The Committee on European Integration made six foreign trips and a delegation from the Committee received 17 foreign visits.

The President of the Senate received a total of 40 foreign visits, the Senate Vice-Presidents a total of 17 foreign visits and the Senate Committees 56 foreign visits.

The Senate was visited last year by four foreign delegations upon the invitation of the President of the Senate. In May, a delegation from the National Council of the Slovak Republic headed by its Chairman, Jozef Migas, was received by the President of the Senate, Libuse Benesova. In June, a visit was made by a delegation from the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Roumania headed by the President of the Senate, Petre Roman. This was followed in September by a delegation from the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia headed by its President, Janis Straume. In November, a visit was made by a delegation from the Federal Council of the Republic of Austria headed by the Federal Council President, Jürgen Weiss.

The Senate Delegation headed by the Senate President received eight visits during the year from heads of state. In March, the Senate President received the President of the Republic of Chile, Eduard Frei, followed in May by the President of the Republic of Latvia, Guntis Ulmanis. The President of another Baltic state – the Republic of Lithuania – Valdas Adamkus, visited the Senate in September. In July, the President of the Republic of Macedonia, Kiro Gligovov, was received as was the President of the Slovak Republic, Rudolf Schuster. In September, the Senate President arranged an official dinner reception to mark the visit of the President of the Namibian Republic, Sam Nujoma. The President of the Swiss Confederation, Ruth Dreifuss was received by the Senate in November. In December, the Senate President arranged an official dinner reception to mark the visit of the President of Mongolia, Natsagiyn Bagabandi

The Senate also received visits from the representatives of legislative bodies. In March, the Senate received a visit from the Speaker of the Canadian Senate, Gildas Molgat. A visit by the Deputy Chairman of the Federal Chamber of the Federal Republic of Germany, Rudolf Seiters, took place in September, followed in October by the reception of the Deputy Speaker of the Upper Chamber of the Parliament of the Republic of India, Najma Heptulla.

In February, before the anticipated acceptance of the Czech Republic in the North Atlantic Alliance, a Senate delegation received General Klaus Naumann, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. The UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, was received by the Senate in July and the General Secretary of the North Atlantic Alliance, Lord Robertson, was received in November. Lord Robertson also spoke in the Meeting Hall at a Senate meeting which was then under way.

One of the events to commemorate 17th November 1989 was a ceremonial dinner arranged for the former Soviet President, Michael Gorbachev, who visited the Senate with his daughter.

Conferences and seminars also take place regularly on the Senate premises (we provide a complete list in chronological order), at which the senators give the floor to representatives of the specialist and lay public. 105 such events took place in 1999, chief amongst which were the following:

In February, a Discussion Meeting on the Development of the Civil Sector was arranged under the auspices of Senate Vice-President, Ivan Havlièek, together with the Forum of Donors and the Foundation Information Centre with the participation of representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Physical Education and representatives of the governmental Council of Non-state Non-profit Organizations.

Several events relating to Romany issues were also arranged under the auspices of the Senate Vice-President, Ivan Havlièek, such as a meeting on Romany initiatives on the social status of Romanies, a meeting of Romany consultants, a seminar on: “The Creation of a Positive Image for Romanies in the Media” and seminars included in the „KHAMORO ´99 International Romany Festival“.

A seminar took place in March under the auspices of the Senate Vice-President, Jaroslav Musial, entitled “60 Years after Hitler´s Occupation of the Czech Lands”, followed in September by a seminar and commemorative meeting: “60 Years after Germany Unleashed World War II”.

In March, the Czech Republic was accepted into the North Atlantic Alliance. In honour of this occasion, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies arranged a ceremonial concert at the Smetana Hall in the Municipal House.

In May, a meeting took place under the auspices of the Senate President of representatives of civic associations and non-profit organizations in collaboration with the National Coordination Council for the International Year of Seniors.

The Wallenstein Palace gates opened to the public twice for Open Days to mark the Czech Republic state holidays of 8th May and 28th October.

Wallenstein Palace, where the Senate is housed, has also been the venue for twelve exhibitions. These included an exhibition of artistic work by children suffering from epilepsy, an exhibition of drawings by children from the flooded Romany village of Jarovnice in Slovakia entitled “They Don´t Live Amongst us any More”, an exhibition by the Femina art group, an architectural heritage exhibition and the SOS KOSOVO exhibition. The largest exhibition to date on Senate premises was “Loss and Hope – 1939-1999”, which illustrated the associations between the historical dates of 1939, 1989 and 1999 with unique documentation.