Thursday, December 9

Norwegian legislators don’t just sit in the Storting

The laws passed in Norway are largely written elsewhere than in the Storting, writes Andreas Halse.

When laws are to be passed, the Storting has a lot of material to consider. And time is short.

This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are the responsibility of the writer.

How did the outside lawyers have to work 1000 hours to explain to the Storting what tax rules they have adopted themselves?

Something may be because the Storting simply does not have the opportunity to become familiar with everything it adopts.

It was interesting to follow Aftenposten’s disclosures on tax rules related to the use of passenger homes by Storting representatives. There are now many indications that the Storting has for several years misinterpreted the tax rules that it has itself adopted.

It’s really not that strange.

Complicated regulations

Although the Storting makes yearly changes to the country’s tax laws, it is a matter of complicated regulations.

Much of the legislation was also passed prior to the election of current representatives. Furthermore, the Norwegian system often leaves practice to clarify various issues related to the new legislation. Therefore, it is also not always possible for the Storting representatives to anticipate all the consequences of their own legislative decisions.

However, what the Storting can do is decide how the law should be understood.

This presupposes, of course, that the parliamentary majority has an opinion on the matter and that it is done in relation to the legislative decision itself. The Storting’s own practice suggests, however, that they rarely make particular changes to the legal text. It is also rare that clear preferences are articulated regarding how individual provisions should be understood.

In short, this means that the laws that are passed are largely written elsewhere than in the Storting.

Much material, but little time

In practice, the administration is responsible for most of the legislative work in Norway. The constitution allows the government to present bills, in addition to the representatives themselves.

This procedure is used in practically all court cases dealt with by the Storting. This means that the laws are studied and prepared by the administration. In larger cases, often also by a legal committee. The laws are then sent to the Storting in bill form.

These propositions are usually broad. In addition to the proposed legislative texts, they contain, among other things, discussions on how individual provisions should be understood.

This gives the Storting extensive material to consider. And they have little time.

For example, almost half of the laws are passed during the two weeks the Storting has available in June. By comparison, the ministries, and a possible law committee, have had several years at their disposal to rule on all the details of the bills themselves.

The Storting changes little

It is unrealistic to think that the Storting will be able to go deep and deep into all the laws that it deals with in the current system.

This is shown by the fact that the Storting rarely makes changes to the government bill.

For the 2013-2014 and 2018-2019 sessions, for example, only 13% of government bills were amended (if we exclude completely marginal changes). Especially in the main legislative cases, the Storting is reluctant to make changes at all. And if such changes are made, it is modest in nature.

The Storting rarely makes changes to the government bill.

A good example of the Storting’s attitude towards major legislative studies is the consideration of the new Central Bank Law in 2019. Here, the Government bill slipped unchanged into the Storting. The Storting also held back in making a clear statement on the various individual provisions of the law.

Moderation in the legislative process came to light especially the following year. It was in connection with the appointment of Nicolai Tangen as oil fund manager. Then Finance Minister Jan Tore Sanner (H) had to bring not just one, but two studies evaluate an ambiguity about a central provision in the new Central Bank Law.

You can also stand firm in legislative work

The fact that the Storting is reluctant to change the government’s proposals is first and foremost a sign of the working methods in legislative work. This does not mean that the Storting lacks opinions on what laws should be passed or amended. However, the way the Storting does this is to ask the government for help rather than promoting the proposals themselves.

Between 2000 and 2020, for example, representatives in the Storting only passed 31 bills. If we look at the origin of the new legislation initiative, on the other hand, 12% of the decisions of the 2013-2014 and 2018-2019 sessions date back to the Storting. As a general rule, this takes the form of an application decision in which the Storting asks the government to return an invoice.

It is the representatives themselves who have the ultimate responsibility for any ambiguity in the legislation they adopt.

Of course, the Storting may also have strong opinions on individual provisions.

Like when the new Statistics Law was discussed in 2019. Then the conflict between former Statistics Norway director Christine Meyer and FRP leader Siv Jensen was fresh in mind, so much so that the Finance Committee was very clear in your opinion on the professional independence of Statistics Norway.

The case may indicate that it may motivate the Storting to delve deeper into the legislative process when the parties recognize issues of utmost importance. In addition, one can imagine that the media focus contributed with its own. The case also shows that the Storting is strong in legislative work in those cases where the majority has formed an opinion.

However, as a general rule, the situation is different.

The vast majority of the laws passed by the Storting have been studied, written and evaluated by the administration. They have rarely been the subject of detailed scrutiny at the Storting.

Therefore, there are many reasons why the Storting from time to time needs to ask outside experts how laws and rules should be understood and practiced.

In part, this may be due to heavy work pressure, tight deadlines, and limited study resources. Representatives of the Storting do not need to be lawyers either.

On the other hand, nothing prevents the Storting from changing these conditions. The Storting may have good reason to leave much of the legislative process to the administration. However, it is the representatives themselves who bear the final responsibility for ambiguities in the legislation they adopt.

It is worth noting that the examples of Storting practice in this text are mostly taken from periods of majority rule or binding agreements between the majority parties. The new parliamentary situation may contribute to a new dynamic in legislative matters.

Going forward, the country will be run by a minority government. This will make it even more important for representatives to delve into legislative work in order to represent voters.

The numerical basis of the text comes from the columnist’s master’s thesis in law. Who writes the laws? An analysis of how the Storting uses its influence on legislation ».

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