Legislature passes bills on dust amid uproar

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Legislature passes bills on dust amid uproar

The National Assembly on Wednesday passed a series of bills to fight fine dust pollution despite the ongoing battle between the liberal and conservative parties over an opposition leader’s controversial attack on President Moon Jae-in and his North Korea policy.

The legislature held a voting session and passed nine bills, including eight bills to fight skyrocketing levels of fine dust. It was the first voting session this year, as legislative activities were frozen for the past two months due to the deadlock between the ruling and opposition parties.

The law governing disasters was revised to include fine dust pollution as a national disaster. With the designation, the national government can spend money from the state budget on measures to solve the problem. The government also has the authority to conduct an investigation into damage and create a restoration plan. Certain areas can be designated as special disaster zones.

One of the bills passed Wednesday also lifted a restriction on consumer purchases of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cars. Until now, the law allows only certain groups - including the disabled, taxies and car rental services - to use LPG vehicles. LPG cars pollute less compared to petrol- and diesel-fueled cars. The measures also required kindergartens and grade schools to install air purifiers and fine dust measuring devices in each classroom. The central and regional governments will pay the bills.

In addition to the eight fine dust bills, the lawmakers passed one other bill to resume English-language education for first and second graders in elementary schools. The ban on after-school English classes was imposed last year, but lawmakers lifted the ban after only one year.

While lawmakers had no disagreement on passing bills the public demanded, confrontation between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) escalated Wednesday over a remark by Rep. Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the LKP.

“We no longer want to hear the humiliating rhetoric that the president of South Korea is a top spokesman for Kim Jong-un,” Na said in a speech at the National Assembly on Tuesday, setting off a political firestorm.

The DP on Wednesday morning asked the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Ethics to take disciplinary action against Na for insulting the president. All 128 DP lawmakers signed the petition, which said Na has failed to maintain her dignity as a lawmaker.

Later in the day, the LKP also decided to take the case to the Special Committee on Ethics. The party held a meeting of its lawmakers and decided to ask the committee to take disciplinary action against DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan and its floor leader, Rep. Hong Young-pyo, for interrupting Na’s speech.

“The DP systemically stopped an opposition floor leader’s remarks,” Na said Wednesday. “During the process, their words and actions clearly damaged democracy in the legislature.”

The deadlock is expected to further stall the passage of other sensitive political bills, including some pet projects of the Moon Jae-in administration.

The DP has formed a legislative alliance with three opposition parties - excluding the LKP - to push forward the reform initiatives of the Moon administration.

Floor leaders of the DP, Bareunmirae Party, Party for Democracy and Peace, and Justice Party agreed at a meeting Tuesday to fast-track three bills aimed at revising the election system, creating a new investigative body to go after senior public servants and redistributing investigative authority between the prosecution and police.

The “fast-track” system was introduced in 2014 in the legislature to advance stalled bills. Until now, only two bills have been fast-tracked since then.

A bill will be designated as a fast-track item if more than half of all the Assembly’s lawmakers, or a majority of members on a standing committee, request it. Then, more than three-fifths of all lawmakers, or more than three-fifths of the members of a standing committee, must agree to it.

It takes a maximum of 330 days to vote on a fast-tracked bill. It will automatically advance to the main voting session after spending 180 days on a standing committee and 90 days on the Legislative and Judiciary Committee. A vote must take place within 60 days after it reaches the session.

Due to this system, forming a legislative alliance to secure the required 180 votes to fast-track an item is a key. As of now, no single party has the absolute majority in the legislature. The DP and the three allied opposition parties together have 176 lawmakers. The coalition could secure the 180 votes with the support of the Minjung Party, which has one lawmaker, and three liberal independent representatives.

The LKP has 113 lawmakers in the 300-seat National Assembly, and its leaders, including Na, have said all its representatives will step down if the DP’s bill to revise the current electoral system is fast-tracked through the legislative coalition. They warned that an early general election must take place if the lawmakers resign, as the National Assembly is required to have more than 200 lawmakers.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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