Seimas spring session mainly focused on managing the consequences of the coronavirus

Seimas
The Seimas - DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

The Seimas closed its spring session, which had started on 10 March 2020. This year, the session was held under extraordinary conditions because of the coronavirus. The number of plenaries exceeded the planned figure and stood at 54, resulting in the adoption of over 450 pieces of legislation, the Seimas press and public affairs office wrote in a press release.

In the context of the quarantine and the declared emergency situation, the spring session was focused on managing the fight against the coronavirus and mitigating the impact of the emergency.

The legislative amendments made by the Seimas have ensured faster and more efficient management of emergency situations, extended the time limit for mandatory hospitalisation and isolation without a court decision, and strengthened liability for breaches of civil protection requirements.

Patreon the Lithuania Tribune

The Seimas has also imposed more stringent fines on the infected with coronavirus for violations of the quarantine restrictions and has increased salary supplements and social guarantees for those working in infection hotspots during the quarantine.

In response to the quarantine restrictions, the Seimas allowed for the meetings of the Government, municipal councils, Seimas committees and commissions, and the Board of the Seimas to be held remotely.

The Law on Elections to the Seimas has been amended to adequately prepare for holding general elections in an emergency situation or during an emergency event, should it occur. The Seimas has decided to facilitate electronic voting for citizens living abroad.

Coronavirus relief measures

In view of the emergency situation and the quarantine imposed in the country, the Seimas has adopted relevant decisions aimed at helping businesses and employees, as well as ensuring the stability of the country’s financial system.

The Parliament has increased the national borrowing threshold to EUR 5,401.4 million and allowed employers to declare downtime due to the emergency or quarantine, with downtime income for employees frozen at the size of no less than the amount of the minimum monthly wage.

The Seimas has granted wage subsidies to businesses and self-employed persons and provided for additional benefits to small farmers. Moreover, support measures for senior workers have been approved and incentives have been envisaged for employers who retain workers aged 60 and over.

The Seimas has foreseen relief measures for workers and businesses after the quarantine as well. The new provisions establish measures to promote job creation and post-quarantine wage subsidies. They also extend the payment of fixed-rate allowance for self-employed persons to two months after the quarantine. In addition, the job search allowance has been introduced and funding for vocational training of staff and the unemployed has been increased.

The Seimas has granted lump sum benefits to children, the elderly, the disabled, widows and orphans. Families who have lost their income during the quarantine have been given an opportunity to receive a larger child benefit. As a result of the emergency situation and quarantine, the payment of sick leave benefits has been adjusted, i.e. the list of situations where persons are entitled to receive a sick leave benefit has been expanded. Furthermore, the sick leave benefit for childcare will be paid for a longer period of time. Higher rates of sick leave benefits have been introduced for workers affected by the disease due to which the emergency situation has been declared.

The Seimas has simplified the procedures applicable to paying social insurance contributions, penalties, interest and arrears in the event of their late payment after the Government announced the quarantine and, where necessary, has allowed to defer the payment of compulsory health insurance contributions.

In order to mitigate the social consequences of the pandemic, the Seimas has facilitated the provision of financial social assistance to the poor. Temporarily, assessment of assets owned by the right of ownership will be scrapped when granting financial social assistance to poor residents. The amendments to the Law on Health Insurance envisage that the emergency and quarantine period will not be counted towards the established time limits set for palliative care services offered in hospices and palliative care centres for patients with severe illnesses.

The Seimas has obliged the providers of mortgage and consumer credit to defer the payment of credit or mortgage payments at the request of the beneficiary in cases where the borrower or his/her spouse has lost at least one third of his/her income.

The amended Code of Civil Procedure now prohibits bailiffs to recover funds which debtors receive as state and municipal aid in connection with the quarantine.

The Seimas has approved measures helping financial market participants to solve the problems connected with a lack of funds and has eased the conditions for preservation of business for legal entities during the quarantine.

Tour operators may now offer vouchers to tourists for cancelled trips. Should a tourist refuse a voucher, the settlement for any cancelled trip is to take place no later than 90 days after the end of the quarantine. Moreover, a new refund model for cancelled events has been approved and deferral of payment for patents and trademarks has been allowed.

Social security

The task of reducing social exclusion has gained a lot of attention in the Seimas during the spring session. The Parliament has decided against reducing old-age pensions as of 2021 for those who have received the early old-age pension, provided they have been receiving the early old-age pension for a period not exceeding three years and provided their record of service at the time of awarding the early old-age pension stands at no less than 40 years (in 2021 and before). The required record of service entitling persons to unreduced pension size will be gradually increased by three months each year until it reaches 42 years and 6 months in 2031 and thereafter.

In order for the income of the lowest earners to grow faster, the Seimas has increased the tax-exempt amount of income by EUR 50 to stand at EUR 400 as early as from 1 July 2020.

The amended Law on the Accumulation of Pensions will now regulate the payment of privately accumulated pensions, as well as the functions and liability of the State Social Insurance Fund Board, Sodra, the formation of the Pension Annuity Fund Council, and the management of the assets of recipients of pension annuities. Moreover, pension annuities paid by the state will not be subject to personal income tax.

The Seimas has decided to create a uniform system of accreditation of social care services in all municipalities. This will help municipalities to control the institutions providing social care. This solution is expected to encourage municipalities to exercise greater control over social care institutions.

Other decisions made during the Seimas session include the decision to harmonise the payment of benefits under the Law on Benefits for Children to persons at social risk, prohibit discrimination on health grounds (not only on disability grounds), and support indefinitely the employment of people with hearing disability in social enterprises. Patients with oncological diseases will be now be allowed to get an 80 % discount on public transport tickets.

The new provision under the Law on the Financial Incentive for Young Families Acquiring a First Home will contribute to helping young families to provide for their own housing. Under the said law, the Lithuanian regions where young families purchasing their first housing are entitled to a financial incentive which will only be subject to review when the calculated standard value per unit area of immovable property in the territory of that region increases by more than 20 %. The waiting period for renting social housing, as stipulated in the Law on Support for Housing or Renting, will also allow addressing the problems of housing more effectively.

In implementing the Law on Strengthening of the Family, the Seimas has endorsed the members of the newly established National Family Council, an advisory body accountable to the Parliament. The Council will be in charge of assessing the formulation and implementation of the family policy.

Finance and economy

In view of the approved conclusions of the parliamentary investigation into the 2009–2010 crisis in Lithuania, the Seimas has recognised the establishment of a State Development Bank as a project of national importance. The Parliament has mandated the Government to launch, no later than by 1 September 2020, consultations with the Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support of the European Commission on the technical assistance to the establishment of the State Development Bank. The Government is also mandated to consider the option of state participation in the capital of credit institutions.

The newly adopted legislative package for the creation of the Business Assistance Fund will allow the Government to provide state guarantees for non-equity securities used for promoting economy affected by the emergency situation and for increasing the financial liquidity of business.

The Seimas has created the legal preconditions for the establishment of the Innovation Promotion Fund. The Fund will promote investment in fundamental and applied research, experimental development and innovation. Concurrently, amendments to the Law on Investment provide for targeted legal regulation aimed at the promotion of investment in major projects.

The Seimas has had a lengthy debate on state regulation of prices of goods and services and has decided to permit the said regulation only subject to declaring the state of emergency.

Under the amended Law on Alcohol Control, the trade in alcoholic beverages with ethyl alcohol strength by volume not exceeding 15 % will be permitted for mobile caterers in mobile locations, including beaches. Trade in the said beverages will only be possible in high season (resort season, recreational and tourist season) established by the relevant municipal council.

Energy sector

When it comes to energy, the Seimas has adopted important amendments on the promotion of green energy. The new provisions allow residents to establish renewable energy associations.

The Seimas has decided to regulate dedicated security requirements applicable to the project of synchronisation of the electricity system. The amended legislation puts the transmission system operator in charge of ensuring that the established requirements for stability, security, reliability, protection of confidential information, compliance of contractors with national security interests, cyber security and equipment security are met.

The Seimas resolution on the threat posed by the Astravyets nuclear power plant has called on the Government to take immediate measures to prevent Belarusian electricity from entering the electricity market of the Republic of Lithuania. It has also urged the Government to implement all the requirements of Article 4 of the Law on Necessary Measures of Protection against the Threats Posed by Unsafe Nuclear Power Plants in Third Countries.

The Seimas has endorsed amendments to the Law on Energy with a view to consistently promoting, developing and using innovation in the energy sector as well as developing renewable energy sources in Lithuania.

The Seimas has amended the Law on the Heat Sector by regulating the installation of remote heat meters.

State administration and self-governance

The concept of the Comprehensive Plan of the Territory of the Republic of Lithuania, one of the priorities for adoption by the Seimas in the spring session, has been approved. It includes guidelines for territorial planning and functional priorities of the use of the territory of the Republic of Lithuania under the Comprehensive Plan.

By amending as many as 40 laws, the Seimas has approved the reshuffle of the strategic management model. From now on, all national strategic planning processes will form part of a single system. Thus, the national strategic planning will be linked to the state budget, meaning that sustainable funding will be ensured for implementing each element in the system of strategic planning. Moreover, the number of planning documents will be reduced from 290 to approximately 100.

Another important attainment of the Seimas in the spring session is the adoption of comprehensive regulation of infrastructure development in residential areas. The adopted Law on Municipal Infrastructure Development will regulate planning, implementation and funding of the development of municipal infrastructure and establish the rights and obligations of persons participating therein.

The Seimas has adopted a new version of the Law on Regional Development for the shaping of a new and effective regional policy based on regional independence.

The session has approved the transformation of the Lithuanian Road Administration into a state enterprise thereby ensuring proper state supervision of roads of national importance.

The Seimas has introduced more clarity into the legal regulation of civil servants’ liability for misconduct in office by establishing that civil servants may not be held liable for minor misconduct in office.

The amendments to the Law on Youth Policy Framework improve the level of implementation of the youth policy and ensure that issues of all youth groups are addressed through a cost-effective and sound horizontal youth policy.

Environment protection

During the spring session, the Seimas paid much attention to environmental issues. Amendments to the Law on Waste Management established a ban, as of 1 November 2020, on the import from other states of municipal and hazardous waste intended for disposal or energy production as well as on the import of municipal waste from incineration (ash and slag).

The Seimas has decided to raise the pollution tax rates in view of the environmental impact of pollutants, their harmfulness, the cost of reducing pollution, as well as both national and international commitments to reduce environmental pollution. The initiators of the proposals believe this will encourage economic operators to reduce this type of pollution.

The Seimas has granted state environmental protection officers the right to check the condition of hunters who participate in hunting activities in cases of suspicion of insobriety or other types of intoxication.

Law and order

In order to improve the prevention of organised crime, corruption and selfish crimes, the Seimas has adopted the Law on Civil Asset Forfeiture. Assets and financial benefit derived therefrom may be confiscated where there are grounds to believe that the assets have not been obtained in a lawful manner and where the total value of such assets differs from the size of lawful income of a person or persons in question and the difference exceeds the amount of 2,000 basic fines and penalties.

The amendments to the Law on Conciliatory Mediation in Civil Disputes will now allow for resolving not only civil but also administrative disputes through mediation. The aim is to promote amicable settlement of disputes, reduce the workload for courts, and save private and state budget funds allocated for the settlement of disputes in court.

The Seimas has decided to engage, starting from 1 August 2020, society representatives into the Bailiffs’ and Notaries’ Courts of Honour that hear disciplinary cases.

In order to improve legal regulation on lobbying, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of lobbying, ensure transparency of lobbying activities, and ensure public dissemination of the information on the impact made on legislation by lobbying, the Seimas has adopted a new version of the Law on Lobbying Activities.

The Seimas has adopted a new Law on Organised Crime Prevention, which will change the legal framework governing the implementation and coordination of prevention of organised crime from 1 July 2020 by making it more detailed. In parallel, the new law establishes the rights and obligations of the bodies in charge of prevention of organised crime, details prevention measures and their application, and governs the cooperation of law enforcement bodies with members of organised crime groups.

The amendments to the Law on the Prosecution Service establish the terms of office of members of the prosecutor performance evaluation and selection commissions and extend the scope for granting special status to prosecutors. Amendments to the Code for the Execution of Criminal Penalties are aimed at developing the model of a light regime prison in the framework of enforcement of sentences in Lithuania and increasing the employment of convicts and detainees.

National defence

The Seimas has revised the legal regulation on mobilisation and host nation support as well as the procedure for introducing and lifting martial law.

A new version of the Law on VIP Protection establishes the conditions of and grounds for ensuring security of protected individuals and facilities, and regulates the management of the work of the Dignitary Protection Service.

Health protection

During the spring session, the Seimas decided to increase the salary of resident doctors by 15 %, regulate the self-employed work of personal health care professionals, and legalise voluntary and unpaid medical service provision by medical doctors when they engage in comprehensive palliative care.

Education, science and culture

The new amendments to the Law on the National Radio and Television introduce new regulation on LRT management and operation as well as LRT’s duties, rights and liability.

The Seimas has centralised admission to state and municipal schools that run pre-school, pre-primary, primary, basic, and secondary education curricula. The Parliament has approved the proposal to reorganise Šiauliai University by merging it with Vilnius University from 1 January 2021 and endorsed the description of the conditions for the merger. The legislator has introduced legal regulation on the mechanism of payment of targeted scholarships, which allows for systematic planning and encouragement of individuals to opt for the specialities needed in the labour market based on state assessment of all available information and research data.

The Seimas has increased the salaries of fellows and other researchers in research institutes under budgetary institutions as of 1 September 2020, with basic salary coefficients increased by 8 % for all categories of civil service positions.

The Seimas has granted Lukiškių Square in Vilnius the status of a memorial and established the principles governing the use of the square.

The Seimas declared 2021 as the year of Jurgis Ambroziejus Pabrėža, Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius, Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius, Vytautas Mačernis, Juozas Zikaras, and Juozas Lukša-Daumantas, as well as the year of the Constitution of 3 May and Mutual Pledge of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations.

In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the first occupation of the Republic of Lithuania by the USSR on 15 June 1940, the Seimas has confirmed the need to continue the study of the period of the Soviet occupation in general and the armed anti-Soviet and anti-Nazi resistance in particular and disseminate the results to the general public.

Agriculture

The Seimas has decided to strengthen the control of transfer of agricultural land and prevent the acquisition of more agricultural land than is permitted by law. By increasing the development of the relevant e-services and scrapping the excess requirement for paper copies previously required for submission alongside the electronically submitted documents, the Parliament has reduced the administrative burden that falls on those who wish to register farms.

International policy

The Seimas has adopted a resolution on EU solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to call on the European Commission to take all the necessary measures to combat the pandemic and its consequences in a coordinated and unified manner.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II as the most brutal global armed conflict in human history, the Seimas has called on the world’s academic community and civil society to continue the investigation into the crimes of totalitarian regimes against humanity and historical facts. The aim is to spread the truth so that tragedies of this magnitude never happen again. The Seimas has condemned the actions of the State Duma of the Russian Federation made in an attempt to rewrite history and question the foundations of modern civilisation and international law.

Other issues

The Seimas has commemorated the 30th Anniversary of Restoration of the Independence of Lithuania and the Centenary of the Constituent Seimas. The Parliament has also paid tribute to the victims of the first mass deportations and killings.

The Seimas heard the first State of the Nation Address by Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania, and endorsed the Government’s report for 2019.

Darius Jauniškis was approved for the second term in office as Director of the Dignitary Protection Service; Mindaugas Macijauskas was appointed as Auditor General; Gražina Ramanauskaitė was approved as Inspector of Journalist Ethics for the second term in office; Prof. Dr Adas Jakubauskas was appointed Director General of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania; and Vaidutė Ščiglienė was appointed Chairperson of the National Commission for Cultural Heritage.

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