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Finnish Act Lets The Public Send Bills To Parliament, Volunteer Group Makes It Easy

from the true-democracy dept

Reactions to the White House's We the People initiative have been mixed, but it is certainly one small step in the right direction. In Finland, they're taking a giant leap: letting citizens pass complete bills directly to parliament. The Citizen's Initiative Act, which came into effect this month, requires Parliament to process any bill that collects 50,000 signatures from citizens of voting age. Alternatively, citizens can make a proposal for a bill, which will then be examined and potentially drafted by a ministry. To facilitate the process, a volunteer group in Helsinki has created the Avoin ministeriö (Open Ministry) website, an online tool for drafting bills and proposals and gathering signatures.

The Open Ministry is an idea that Joonas Pekkanen came up with last December. Pekkanen, who has been involved in launching Internet-based start-up companies, saw a newspaper article about the citizens’ initiative. He began to recruit volunteer workers for the project from his circle of friends, and the group was formed quickly. The entire operation has started from the grass-roots level. No money from the government or any interest group is involved. Openness and involving everybody in the operation of the ministry has been the central principle behind the activity.

They plan to start small and get people comfortable with the idea, by first targeting a much-maligned dog tax that is effectively un-enforced but still on the books and actually costing the government money. Pekkanen plans to focus on submitting completed bills rather than proposals, saying “the aim is that citizens’ initiatives would have the best possible chances of being passed as laws by Parliament.”

There are similar projects underway in the U.S., but none go quite as far as this. Apparently there is going to be a delay while the Ministry of Justice builds a system for accepting legal digital signatures, but once that is taken care of it will be fascinating to see how this develops, and how responsive the Finnish parliament is to citizen-drafted legislation.



Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 4:19am

    Now that's blow of fresh air in all the mess we are seeing around the world. Kudos to the Finnish! I'm hoping their initiative runs smoothly and other countries start adopting it. Another epic win would be if all bills would be required to be public, even if little public input is needed (ie: military related bills). And bills that proposed deep changes should be voted in referendums.

    Nice job, Finland.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 4:43am

    Response to: Ninja on Mar 9th, 2012 @ 4:19am

    Once this is adopted it would seem that it would just be a matter of time before an a bill requiring openness would be submitted through the system.

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 4:55am

    Definitely a step in the right direction

    It would be nice if there was a mechanism like this in the US, although I would think they would need to set a higher bar for signatures, or else very small segments of the voting population would be likely to try to hijack the system.

    Perhaps something like 50k signatures to get the idea recognized as worth being investigated further and then a second threshold of 500k signatures before actual legislation is drafted ( the whole process being transparent ), just to make sure that the legislation is acceptable to a large enough cross section of the population.

    It would be interesting to see how such a system would integrate with partisan politics.

     

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  4.  
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    crazylilting (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 4:58am

    It seems this little country of just over 5 million is on to what the citizens of the world are desperate for, our voices to be heard and in fact acted on. Its hard to imagine how this would work in a country like the UK with 60 + million people, but i'd sure like to see.

    I find it interesting that they consider 50,000 people to be the magic number. When petitions are created and even 2.4 million people sign it, this is seen as a small number in government circles.

     

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    Xage, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 5:24am

    @crazylilting Finland's population is at around 5.4 million. Dunno if there are even 2.4 million voters in the country.

     

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  6.  
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    Jake, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 5:45am

    Not sure I trust the Great British Public with something like this -the last time we experimented with something like this, the one that got top billing would have permitted people to extra-judicially execute anyone breaking into their house- but the idea is certainly appealing.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 6:06am

    Awesome, now corporations can gather 50,000 of its employees, have them sign a bill that the corporations drafted, and the government will be forced to process it. Wonderful.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 6:18am

    > Reactions to the White House's We the People initiative have been mixed

    Source?

    I guess the narrow circles I frequent all find that initiative to be a complete joke. Do you have any articles I could read that talk about the success stories, where having that website actually made a difference?

     

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  9.  
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    fairusefriendly (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 6:23am

    I applaud the principle behind this

    but seriously has no one realized the consequences of such an act.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2000/11/17/bc_dorisday001116.html

    if only there was a finish equivalent of this hour has 22 minutes.

     

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  10.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:03am

    Re: Response to: Ninja on Mar 9th, 2012 @ 4:19am

    Personally, I would go for a bill that prevents the government from rushing bills through. That require public scrutiny after each round of editing. That allows the public to vote laws into non-existence before they are implemented. That prevents additions after the law has been approved by the public. That requires an analysis to see if the bill is actually necessary.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:31am

    Same mental frequency

    I had this very exact idea months ago and discussed it with coworkers, as a way to eliminate the obscenely large lobbying issue and complete lack of constituency voice. And, just so that corporations don't sit there and whine and cry over "wah, we have no voice in this!", since corporations are now 'people,' they get the exact same number of votes that us regular citizens get: ONE. No lobbyists at all. If corporations want to be people, fine, they'll get treated the same as people and have the same volume voice. Also, "We The People" was the inspiration behind the idea. Good to see some bigwigs in Finland operate on the same mental frequency as I do.

    I just truly, truly hope this happens in America one day. I think the one true thing that could save democracy and make the US the greatest nation to ever exist is to simultaneously outlaw lobbying and institute a crowdsourcing law submission platform. It has been effective with "We The People," why can't it work with legislation? Congressmen are supposed to, by law, represent their constituency. This helps them do their sworn duty.

     

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  12.  
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    grumpy (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    Re:

    "Comedian Rick Mercer says he started the petition, because he wanted to show that any idiot could trigger a referendum."

    And any idiot did. :-)

    But seriously, this is different. It's not for a national vote but to inject ideas into the parliamentary process. Parliament can squash anything in seconds if it doesn't like it - the initiative is about free speech, not free "y'all must take me seriously". OTOH, squashing something reasonable could be hard to explain come election day so I actually find the Finnish initiative quite interesting.

     

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  13.  
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    crazylilting (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 8:31am

    Re:

    @Xage Thanks for that. Puts a little more perspective on the numbers.

     

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  14.  
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    crazylilting (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 8:41am

    Re:

    @jake, to be fair, most thefts are never solved. I have had over 8000 in tools stolen and it has set me back financially as well as psychologically. It takes a long time for a small business to bounce back from B@E's and there is very little the police will do. I offered to GPS my tools and leave them in the vehicle for someone to steal and they could track those tools though the syndicate that preys upon us in this way, but they weren't interested at all. So it would seem that we are left on our own to deal with these bastards ourselves. It's no wonder people want to kill them. A dead thief cannot steal anything else and would make any would be thief think twice before breaking into someone's home or business.

     

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  15.  
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    Eileen (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:32am

    Re:

    Their schools are also amazing, and worth reading about:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ravitch-why-finlands-schools-are-gre at-by-doing-what-we-dont/2011/10/12/gIQAmTyLgL_blog.html

    If it weren't so damned cold, I'd be wanting to move there!!

     

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  16.  
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    Austin (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:34am

    Removing the Middleman

    First let me say I agree that this is an excellent step in the right direction.

    Now back in the real world...the problem is that any corporation with at least 50,000 employees can now DIRECTLY write their own laws. I'm not sure how many, if any companies in Finland have this many people (I would assume there must be at least a hand full), but honestly they could probably get by with 30,000 employees plus family members.

    At least the old system required this be done through expensive lobbyists. Now the process of company written laws can be opened up directly to the companies

    But yeah, the tiny little non-cynical optimist in me loves this idea.

     

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  17.  
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    Eileen (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:35am

    Re:

    You don't have the right to self-defense in the UK? I guess no guns makes that difficult.

     

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  18.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:40am

    Re:

    How many businesses, in Finland, have 50,000 employees? Plus, it says they will process it, not pass it.

     

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  19.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:42am

    Re: Re:

    I should add to this, most states in the US have a way for citizens to propose laws and constitutional amendments. These proposals bypass the states' legislatures and go directly to the people to vote on. If passed, they become law/part of the state constitution.

    I don't really see how what Finland is doing is different from that.

     

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  20.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:45am

    Re: Removing the Middleman

    As I said above, getting 50,000 signatures does not mean it becomes law. It means that the proposal will be viewed by the parlament. They can still reject it if they want.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 10:02am

    Re:

    Yeah well, in Finland something like 98% of e workforce is unionized, so I'd like to see some corporation try and do that, and watch the ensuing s***storm with glee.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 10:14am

    Re: Re:

    Correction, its 75% of the workforce, but the idea that a corporation would try to force its workers to do something political is, to be frank, ridiculous. If anyone wants to ream more about labor relations in Finland: http://inequality.org/centralized-labor-agreements-in-finland/

     

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  23.  
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    Chargone (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 6:36pm

    Re: Definitely a step in the right direction

    ... half the problem in the USA is that, as a country, it's just too damn big.

    things that large are usually called empires, and there's a reason empires are pretty much never democratic (the British empire cheated. many of it's component parts were democratic. the empire as a whole wasn't.)

     

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  24.  
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    Chargone (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 6:53pm

    Re: Re:

    odds are good it's like NZ. self defense only works as a defense if you don't escalate, and doesn't Necessarily cover your property. (that is, unless the thief had a gun, if you used one it's not self defense. it's also a 'yes, i did kill/assault the guy, but here's why' type deal... more likely to work the less damage you did in the process, too.)

    and 'no guns' doesn't make self defense difficult, at all. just means most violent crimes involve other weapons. mostly melee weapons. (there's a reason why, if memory serves, blades are quite heavily restricted in the UK as well?) this changes the dynamics a Lot. (in hand to hand combat, the odds of successful defense go up, the odds of accidental death go down, the odds of recoverable injuries go up, and, generally, any fight takes longer, giving more time for someone else to notice it and intervene. though it's also quieter and thus less likely to be noticed unless additional noise is made. or at least, that's what my knowledge of such things would indicate to me.)

    there's only one reason for the common citizen to have unrestricted access to guns (there's a number of reasons for limited subsets to have limited access, mind you). resisting corrupt and tyrannical governments. that's EXACTLY why the USA has a constitutional right to keep and use them.

    i note that the citizenry never seem to take advantage of that. there is no other situation where letting anyone have a gun Improves things. (here, at least, i'm pretty sure hunting accidents cause more deaths than murders, when it comes to gun use. given that the response to armed criminals is to deploy a police cordon and call in such wonderful things as LAVs armed with autocannons as a counter measure (which are armoured and will happily chew through the walls of most buildings, so hiding inside and sniping won't save you) i'm not really surprised.)

    actually, most instances of break-ins, the would-be burgler is unarmed, or has some sort of tool used in the non-violent portion of such activity. almost Any weapon would be escalation.

    some of this holds in the UK, some doesn't. point is, a lot of the rhetoric about gun laws that comes out of the USA doesn't really apply and derives most of it's validity from the impossibility of convincing a government it should not take actions against an institution specifically created to cause it's destruction.

    one of these days i'm gonna get enough sleep and actually manage proper levels of coherency.

     

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  25.  
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    Chargone (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 6:57pm

    Re:

    'mixed' doesn't just mean that a number of people have taken each side of a two sided argument, ya know? there's more positions than that to be had. could be that pretty much everyone agrees it's not going to work. doesn't mean they don't disagree on the hows and whys of it or whether it's a good idea or not.

     

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  26.  
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    Chargone (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:03pm

    Re: Same mental frequency

    ... to be the greatest nation that ever existed would take a hell of a lot more than THAT.

    it would move it from the realm of 'impossible' to merely 'neigh-impossible' though.

    (to actually achieve it you need to utterly BREAK the corporations and the insanity that is the copyright and patent systems (and possibly tidy up the trade mark system a bit) and then actually get your economy working again properly. step one to That is to realize that the Nation is not a meaningful economic entity. nor is the State (which is closer to what the rest of the world mean by 'country', anyway.) but city-region. there's a couple of places in the states where this apparently causes some administrative headaches due to city-regions being naturally occurring things and crossing not-at-all-natural state boundaries. and that's just to start with.)

     

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  27.  
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    Chargone (profile), Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:10pm

    Re: Re: Removing the Middleman

    which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

    good, in that a corporation can't just write it's own laws and shove 'em through (at least, not more than before.)
    bad, in that it makes it difficult-to-impossible for this method to get any law in place that benefits the public if it involves cutting into the powers or profits of the government.

     

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