Assembly passes more than 70 bills
However, the main Saenuri Party and the opposition Democratic Party failed to narrow differences on the amendment of several articles in the National Intelligence Service act, which is aimed at overhauling the top spy agency and preventing it from engaging in political activities.
Assistant administrators from each party on the special committee for reforming the NIS met in private yesterday morning to discuss the details, but they failed to reach a compromise.
Key matters in dispute include whether to ban intelligence officers from frequenting the National Assembly, political party venues and media outlets to collect information, and whether to remove the right of the NIS to wage a “psychological cyberspace war.”
While Democrats would like to legally impose restrictions on the NIS, Saenuri maintains that revising internal regulations is sufficient, as changing amendments in the NIS act could constrict the officers’ radius of action.
Opposition lawmakers called for an overhaul of the NIS after allegations emerged that the state spy agency waged an online smear campaign against Moon Jae-in, the Democratic presidential candidate and rival to Park Geun-hye, ahead of last year’s election.
The special committee for NIS reform was established following persistent demands from the Democrats.
The opposition also asked for an independent counsel investigation into the top spy agency, but the government and the ruling party rejected it.
Meanwhile, the bills passed at the Assembly include one supporting the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which allows the government to offer the same financial and administrative assistance to foreign investors in the North Korean complex as domestic companies.
Lawmakers hope the bill will boost the “globalization” of the aggregated manufacturing facilities, preventing North Korea from deliberately and unilaterally shutting down operations again at the venture park.
Another bill passed regarding child care raised the age ceiling for children from 6 years old to 8 years old, allowing mothers to take more leave.
That will make it possible for mothers of first- or second-year students at elementary schools to take time off.
Another related bill will allow women who give birth to twins or multiples to take 30 additional days of maternity leave, from the current 90 days to 120 days.
Under bills revised yesterday, those who are caught watching digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) while driving will be fined up to 200,000 won ($189).
The ceiling for loan interest rates will also be brought down, from the current 39 percent to 34.9 percent by 2015, to assist victims of predatory lending.
The rate dropped from 44 percent to 39 percent in 2011.
The Assembly’s 100-day regular session shut down on Dec. 1 as lawmakers bickered over the NIS’s political interference in the presidential race and the legitimacy of the election outcome. The meetings currently under way are part of the extraordinary sessions.
Budget bills for 2014 and the amendment of a tax bill will be tackled at the last plenary meeting of the extraordinary session of the 2013 National Assembly, which is set for Dec. 30 under an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties.
However, a flurry of remaining bills - including the amendment of the aforementioned NIS act - may become stumbling blocks in passing the 2014 budget bills by the year’s end.
The budget bills for this year were dramatically passed at dawn on Jan. 1 - the first time in Korea’s constitutional history that lawmakers missed the deadline.
“The path toward passing the budget bills, and other proposals related to the livelihoods of citizens, by the last day of the plenary session on Dec. 30 is full of land mines,” said Choi Kyung-hwan, floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party.
“We will do our best to help the nation start fresh in the New Year .?.?. by persuading the opposition party to participate cooperatively in the remaining session,” he added.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]