Lawmakers pass total of 135 bills

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Lawmakers pass total of 135 bills

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A group of ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers picket on the stairs to the main conference hall of the National Assembly yesterday to urge the opposition parties to approve the basic pension bill. By Kim Hyung-soo

Members of the ruling and opposition parties dug in their heels over a few divisive proposals yesterday, the last day of the extraordinary session, while managing to pass 135 out of 139 bills at the National Assembly.

At the heart of the debate was a revised bill that would require an equal number of managers at broadcasting stations and their union members to discuss programming and scheduling. If passed, the measure will be applied at private television cable networks and public broadcasting companies.

Although members from both parties on the Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee of the National Assembly initially agreed to pass the motion on Wednesday, lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party abruptly changed their stance, saying that the bill was too restrictive, particularly on private cable networks.

They are now calling for reconsideration.

“The revised bill would contradict the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press,” said Saenuri Party lawmaker Lee Woo-hyun.

“We should let the non-public broadcasters decide everything concerning television scheduling,” Lee said.

The opposition Democratic Party, however, cried foul, accusing the Saenuri Party of flip-flopping on an already agreed upon issue.

“We would not go back on a decision that both parties’ floor leaders had already agreed upon and signed on,” said Democrat Yoo Seung-hee.

“Both public and private broadcasting companies need to follow the government’s guidelines. I don’t think there should be a classification or an exemption.”

That item will be put up for vote in April, although its passage will likely be an uphill battle.

Meanwhile, the Saenuri Party and the Democrats continued to wrangle during the day over the revised basic pension plan, one of the most contested pieces of legislation so far this session, but ultimately failed to reach an agreement in time.

Under the revised scheme, supported by the Saenuri, seniors who are not qualified for benefits from the National Pension Service (NPS), or those who have paid into their NPS accounts for 11 years or less, will receive the full 200,000 won ($187) a month.

But the elderly who have paid into their accounts for more than 11 years will get less than 200,000 won because the NPS will also be giving them benefits.

The DP currently maintains that all seniors aged 65 and older in the bottom 80 percent income bracket should be entitled to receive a 200,000 won monthly allowance as a basic pension, regardless of their input into their NPS accounts.

The Saenuri Party argued that the Democrats’ request will only put more financial pressure on the government’s budget.

“Their demand is excessive and will cause the nation to carry a heavy debt,” said Choi Kyung-hwan, the Saenuri Party floor leader.

But the Democrats lashed back at the ruling party, accusing it of attempting to scale back welfare benefits.

“This is the last day of the February session. But we weren’t able to pass the pension bill because President Park and the Saenuri failed to fulfill their pledges,” said Jun Byung-hun, the DP floor leader.

The motion will be discussed again at an extraordinary session in April.

The failure to find a middle ground on the pension policy has been particularly troublesome for the Park Geun-hye administration, which set the schedule for implementation in July.

Given that it usually takes three months for approved legislation to take full effect, the delay almost guarantees that the time frame will not be met.

Some Saenuri lawmakers requested a special session be held in March in order to deal with the pension bill.

Yet, despite a spate of disputes over a several controversial proposals, lawmakers managed to pass more than 130 bills. Among them is a motion to set up a standing independent counsel that would allow the National Assembly to appoint special prosecutors to investigate alleged crimes.

The legislation, which was passed 112 to 17, will come into force only when the majority of parliamentarians or the justice minister approves the counsel’s operation.

Also passed was a motion calling for the formation of a special inspection body tasked with monitoring the relatives of the president or senior Blue House members. It is intended to prevent potential ethical breaches of high-ranking officials. But the passage was met with lukewarm response, as members on the Legislation and Judiciary Committee excluded parliamentary lawmakers from the list of subjects.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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