United Russia plans ‘zero reading’ for controversial drafts

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, chairman of the United Russia Party, speaks at the joint meeting of the party's supreme council and general council. © Dmitry Astakhov
The majority caucus United Russia party has announced plans to launch a special council that would filter populist and “fake” initiatives as well as bills that replicate existing laws.

Raisa Karmazina – the curator of the group of MPs that United Russia plans to use to form the council – told the Izvestia daily that the new body would look into any legislative proposal and decide if it’s really necessary, what its consequences would be, and whether Russian legislation already contains something similar. “The experts’ task will be not just to approve or reject the bills, they will brief the lawmakers about existing norms,” Karmazina said.

MP Nikolai Pankov, who is poised to head the ‘zero reading’ council within the United Russia caucus, told Izvestia that the decision to launch the body had been made because the composition of the State Duma had changed significantly.

READ MORE: PM Medvedev pledges to stay on conservative course to protect Russian living standards

Over 60 percent of MPs sitting in the committee that I head were elected for the first time – both on our party lists and in single-candidate constituencies. However, they demonstrate the desire to participate in lawmaking activities, and to help them we will discuss all new initiatives with invited experts,” he said.

Pankov emphasized that experts would pay special attention to bills drafted by MPs with no previous Duma experience.

In 2012, United Russia announced that it was forming a council that would filter bills that were openly pointless or populist, and that had no chance of passing through the lower house. Back then, lawmakers coined the term ‘zero hearings’ for such work. The move came after populist proposals became uncommonly frequent and increasingly unusual. Another task of the council was “to prevent the theft of legislative ideas inside the party.”

The following year, in 2013, other Russian parliamentary parties – the Communists, Liberal Democrats and center-left Fair Russia – decided to follow United Russia’s example and launched their own commissions to ensure that MPs abide by common sense and logic while writing new laws.

READ MORE: Russian parliamentary parties form councils to filter ‘stupid’ bills

These steps were a reply to the trend in which MPs launched humorous or provocative bills in a bid to attract public attention.

For example, the Liberal Democrats have previously submitted a bill calling for restrictions on the sale and use of garlic, claiming the consequences of its consumption were extremely negative for Russian demographics. The bill was apparently an April Fools’ joke, but it remained in the lower house register for some time before disappearing without any explanation.

Other odd initiatives included a bill banning the public use of foreign words, and one changing the title of top office from the ‘President of the Russian Federation’ to the ‘Russian Tsar’.

Regional legislatures also occasionally draft openly ridiculous bills, such as one in St. Petersburg that would have outlawed the stomping of cats and loud sex in a bid to ensure locals get a good night’s sleep. The bill was approved, minus the unusual articles, after its main sponsor publicly admitted that by drafting it he merely wanted to draw more attention to the problem.