Austria’s Covid legislation: Duration of parliamentarian consultation period in comparison.

Austria Corona pdftools

A (relative) deep dive into the length of the public consultation period for draft bills in Austria, and whether three days for three pages are actually ‘normal’.

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02-20 -2021

Context

This is an addition to my previous posts on COVID related legislation in Austria.

Over New Year (!), the Austrian government introduced another bill with the aim to get a grip on the COVID pandemic. With the speed with which things have been developping and the flurry of hard/soft/de facto lockdowns, I have to confess that I would have to look into the text to recall the changes introduced by bill 88/ME (XXVII) (in full: ‘Epidemiegesetz, COVID-19-Maßnahmengesetz, Änderung’). However, what made the bill memorable even during these times was its legislative genesis, with the government limiting the public consultative process to only three days. As mentioned in previous posts, Austria’s legislative procedure includes a public consultation process which allows citizens, NGOs, churches etc. to file submissions in which they can raise concerns and provide feedback on the draft law. At least in theory, it’s a feedback loop which allows the government to solicit input and revise its bills.

Unsurprisingly, at least to me, the government was harshly criticized for this short consultation period and accused of rendering any meaningful consideration impossible. I am no expert on the legislative process, but a quick Google search led me to a circular from 2008 in which the Chancellery’s own constitutional service urged ministries to provide a consultative period of at least six weeks. In contrast, some pointed out that the bill had only three pages and that - in light of the urgency due to a pandemic - three days should suffice to read and comment on the bill.

This debate made me wonder how long other bills were open for the consultative process and how bill 88/ME (XXVII) would compare, also when considering their documents’ lengths. To answer these questions, I a) extracted from the parliament’s website the start and end dates of all bill’s consultative period since 1975, as published on the parliament’s website. Based on these dates I calculated the length of the consultative process; b) downloaded the text of all pertaining bills and retrieved their number of pages. Putting the length of the consultation process and the length of the bill together should allow to better evaluate the three day notice for the amendment to the epidemic bill.

I’ll first present the results and other stuff I found noteworthy, and then focus on some of the required steps in R to obtain them. The raw dataset containing the consolidated results is here.

Results

Number of submissions

Code plot
pl_submissions_per_bill<- df_consolidated %>% 
  mutate(bill_indicator=case_when(str_detect(title, "Epidemie") & legis_period=="XXVII" ~ "yes",
                                  TRUE ~ as.character("no"))) %>% 
  ungroup() %>% 
  ggplot()+
  labs(title="LEGISLATIVE CONSULTATION PROCESS:\nNumber of filed submissions per bill.",
       subtitle="Note log scale of y-axis.",
       x="Date",
       y="Number of submissions (log scale)",
       caption=caption)+
  geom_segment(aes(x=as.Date("2017-01-01"),
               xend=as.Date("2017-01-01"),
               y=0,
               yend=4000),
               color="grey50")+
  geom_text(label=str_wrap("Introduction of possibility to file electronic submissions via parliament's website",30),
            aes(x=as.Date("2016-06-01"),
            y=6000),
            color="grey50",
            lineheight=0.7,
            check_overlap = T,
            hjust=1,
            vjust=1,
            size=3,
            family="Roboto condensed")+
  geom_jitter_interactive(aes(x=date_end_max,
               y=n_obs_submissions,
               tooltip=glue::glue("{str_wrap(title, 40)}
                                  Number of submissions: {n_obs_submissions}
                                  Bill ID: {bill_id}/{legis_period},
                                  
                                  Click to open submission page"),
               onclick=paste0('window.open("', link_single_bill_page, '#tab-Stellungnahmen', '")'),
               color=bill_indicator))+
    geom_text(label=str_wrap("Epidemiegesetz, COVID-19-Maßnahmengesetz, Änderung (88/ME)
", 40),
aes(x=as.Date("2021-01-01"),
    y=19000),
color="firebrick",
lineheight=0.7,
check_overlap = T,
hjust=1,
size=3,
family="Roboto Condensed")+
  scale_x_date(breaks=c(seq.Date(as.Date("1990-01-01"), as.Date("2020-01-01"), by="10 year"), as.Date("2017-01-01"),
                        as.Date(min(df_consolidated$date_end_max))),
               date_labels = "%Y" )+
  scale_y_log10(labels=scales::label_comma(accuracy=1),
                limits=c(1, 20000))+
  scale_color_manual(values=c("yes"="firebrick",
                              "no"="grey50"),
                     labels=c("yes"="Covid-19 related bills",
                              "no"="other"))+
  guides(color=guide_legend(reverse=T))+
  theme_post()+
  theme(plot.title.position = "panel",
        legend.position = "top",
        legend.direction = "horizontal",
        legend.justification = "left",
        legend.title = element_blank(),
        axis.title.x = element_text(hjust=0,
                                    color="grey30"),
        axis.title.y=element_text(hjust=0, 
                                  color="grey30",
                                  angle=90))

pl_submissions_per_bill <- girafe(ggobj = pl_submissions_per_bill,
       height_svg = 5,
       options = list(
    opts_toolbar(saveaspng = FALSE),
    opts_tooltip(css = glue::glue("background-color:{plot_bg_color}; 
                 line-height:100%;
                 color:black;
                 font-size:80%;
                 font-family:'Roboto Condensed';)"))
  ))

To start with, let’s have a look at the number of submissions filed during the consultation process per bill. The plot below shows quite clearly that bills related to Covid triggered record breaking numbers of submissions. Apart from the three latest Covid bills, only the two drafts related to security issues (‘Sicherheitspolizeigesetz’) with around 9,000 submissions were within a similar level. To get details, hover over the dots. Note that the y-axis is log-scaled to keep the variation among bills with fewer submissions visible.