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.