Legislative push begins

| 16/03/2009

(CNS): As the countdown to the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly started, government began its legislative push on Friday with the second reading of three important bills. A number of new and revised laws are stil to come as well as committee stages, but there are only six days remaining on the parliamentary calendar. The Children (Amendment) Bill (2009), the Cape Town Convention Bill (2009) and the Residential Tenancies Bill (2009), all of which found support on the opposition benches, were the first laws that legislators began tackling.

Although First Elected Member for the Sister Islands Juliana O’Connor-Connolly noted her concerns regarding the haste with which the legislation was being brought before the House, the opposition rose to support each of the threes bills as they made  a number of observations and recommendations. 

The first of the three was the Children (Amendment) Bill 2009, more commonly known as the child’s law. This new bill advances the 2003 legislationwhich was passed but never implemented and introduces mandatory reporting regarding the abuse of any child. It also gives greater responsibility for children to step parents, compels parents to be present if their children are appearing in court, and defers new powers to protect children on the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

“This legislation puts the force of the law behind existing efforts to protect children from abuse and neglect,” said Anthony Eden, Minister of Health and Human Services, who tabled the law. Although he said parents were ultimately the ones responsible for their children, legislation was required to help. “We need to build strong families, and public policy can establish the guidelines.”

The opposition raised a number of points and said an easy-to-understand version of the law in a pamphlet or brochure need to be created so parents and those working with children would understand their new responsibilities. O’Connor Connolly said that above all, the law must ensure that it does not ignore the wishes of the child. She was, however, concerned that the new powers of the DCFS to organise medical care for children without notification of the parents could be a liberalising move leading to contraceptives being given to children without parental consent.

On the government’s own benches Alfonso Wright also said that the register of sex offenders must move forward, but clearly indicated that this register must inform the community when offenders lived among them, contrary to Minister Eden’s recent announcement that the proposed register would be closed. “People must know who they are so we do not leave our children with neighbours not knowing,” said Wright.

The Cape Town Convention Bill (2009) was also met with little opposition and moved to its second reading, but there was criticism regarding its delay. Tabled by Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson, this bill gives local effect to an international convention regarding the financing of and protocol for the airline industry. It is legislation that members of the financial services sector have for sometime pushed for because of the competitive edge it will give Cayman. The delay was attributed to the fact that the UK itself had not ratified the convention and the Cayman islands government therefore had to seek permission to enact the legislation on its own, which Jefferson said had taken considerable time. The bill was originally placed before Cabinet in 2006.

“Given the economic climate we are in and the support for this bill by the industry, opportunities have been lost because of the delay,” said Rolston Anglin. “I have grave concerns over the time because passing legislation in a timely manner used to be our competitive strength,” he said.

The last piece of legislation for debate on Friday was the Landlord and Tenancies bill, which again was welcomed by both sides of the House. The bill was tabled by  Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts, who said it arose out of the unscrupulous behaviour of some landlords in the wake of Hurricane Ivan when Grand Cayman’s housing stock was dramatically reduced. He said landlords began evicting tenants and raising rents at will in some cases, but tenants also began squatting in others.

“The purpose of this bill is to properly define the rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants in the residential rental sector,” Tibbetts told the House. “It will improve relationships and standards of accommodation. It also creates a Residential Commissioner whose role it will be to mediate between landlords and tenants. It will set out the laws regarding rents and deposits and will provide for compulsory written tenancy agreements.”

The introduction of the commissioner should prove valuable for both parties. The only course of redress to date has been through the courts, which can be long, complex and, of course, expensive. “We need a clearer path for dispute resolution,” said the LoGB. “Mediation is informal, emphasises problem solving, is confidential, less expensive and generally produces a better outcome.”

Although O’Connor Connolly said the House needed more time to debate important legislation such as this, she said she would lend her support to the bill. She noted that knowledge is power and when passed tenants needed to get to know this law.

With the committee stage still to go on these three bills and considerably more legislation, including the Education Reform Bill, the National Conservation Bill, more changes to the Companies Law and others, it is expected that legislators will be sitting late throughout this week if they are to manage the full agenda of parliamentary business. Legislators are also expected to meet in Finance Committee this week, in particular to review the spending of the Special Police Investigation Team.

The government has not yet confirmed if the Public Accounts Committee will meet to review last summer’s revelation by the Auditor General’s Office that almost every government department and agencies was in contravention of the Public Management and Finance Law and had not submitted their accounts for in some cases several years. The governor, who’s official members have supervisory power over this section, had said in the summer that he wanted this issue addressed as it went to the heart of good governance. The House resumes at 2:00 pm on Monday, 16 March, following government’s meeting with Michael Foot and the review team from the UK Treasury.

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