Contentious items on agenda as parliament opens new session

Ljubljana – The National Assembly is meeting for its first regular session this year Monday to tackle some contentious bills, including amendments to the gaming act, a bill to tackle the issue of Swiss franc loans and changes to the communicable diseases act. The MPs will also decide whether to withdraw the much criticised amendments to the penal code.

The session will open with questions time featuring PM Janez Janša and members of his government. In one of the questions Janša will be asked about the government’s position on amendments to the communicable diseases act, which will be on the agenda on Thursday.

The amendments have been drawn up by the NGO Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy and tabled by a group of unaffiliated MPs headed by Speaker Igor Zorčič to provide the legal basis for Covid measures as mandated by the Constitutional Court. The ruling coalition has been reserved about the bill.

Even before questions time on Monday, MPs will take a vote on the motion, sponsored by the centre-left opposition, to remove from the session’s agenda a proposal by the opposition National Party (SNS) that would effectively make some white-collar crime cases fall under the statute of limitations sooner.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office has expressed concern about the proposal, saying it could affect its efficiency in prosecuting crime against EU budget. In response, Janša said the coalition had already decided not to endorse the proposal.

On Tuesday, MPs will debate a bill submitted by the upper chamber to help several thousand people who took out loans in Swiss francs but ran into trouble when the Swiss central bank stopped protecting the value of the currency in 2015.

The bill has been endorsed by the Assembly’s Finance Committee, but banks and businesses have urged MPs not to pass it, arguing it would cause damage to business and Slovenia’s international reputation. The Bank Association will comment on the matter on Monday.

The proposal, which also does not enjoy the government’s support, would prescribe for a cap on the franc exchange rate change to be included into loan agreements signed between 28 June 2004 and 31 December 2010 to distribute the risk between the bank and the borrower. The banks would have to draw up annexes even for loans that have already been paid back.

Also on the agenda is a bill on prevention of money laundering and terrorism financing where the opposition has indicated it will challenge the government’s proposal at the Constitutional Court if it passes as it would make it possible for law enforcement to enter business and private premises without a court warrant.

Another controversial piece of legislation is on the agenda on Wednesday as MPs debate a proposal liberalising the gaming market by scrapping most curbs on casino ownership and employee licensing and allowing five instead of just two lottery organisers. Concessions would be issued based on a public call.

Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj told the Finance Committee in December that the amendments to the gaming act would better protect consumers and increase stability for gaming companies. Meanwhile, the centre-left opposition is concerned the proposal would lead to a fire sale of the gaming company Hit and open the market to foreign competition.

The changes are also opposed by charity and sporting organisations as concession fees are now virtually the only source of income for the foundations for sports and disability and humanitarian organisations.

A bill on environmental protection on the agenda on Thursday will tackle extended producer responsibility to tackle waste management issues and transpose relevant EU legislation.

The session will also see MPs attempt to override the upper chamber’s veto on a bill stepping up Italian language proficiency standard for staff at bilingual schools and kindergartens. An absolute majority is required for the bill to pass this time.

The plenary will also vote on appointing Marjan Divjak a vice-governor of Slovenia’s central bank and debate a report compiled by a parliamentary inquiry on alleged abuse in the prosecution of Franc Kangler, who now serves as a state secretary at the Interior Ministry.