Many Priority Bills Delayed in Legislative Yuan

Political measures dominated the year’s first legislative session.

The recently completed session of the Legislative Yuan (LY) attracted particular attention as the first in Taiwan’s history in which a majority of the seats were held by a political party other than the Kuomintang (KMT). Following elections last January, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) now controls 68 of the body’s 113 seats.

In this first session of 2016, which lasted from February into late July, the LY tackled several politically sensitive pieces of legislation, but did not get around to dealing with a number of items the government had identified as priority bills. These bills, which are now expected to be taken up in the next session that begins in September, include the Electricity Act to break up the state-owned Taiwan Power Co. into several separate entities, amendment of the Act for the Development of the Biotech and New Pharmaceuticals Industry, Basic Agricultural Act to help the farming sector meet increased competition if Taiwan participates in free trade agreements, and revision of the Construction Law (to raise quality through third-party inspections) and the Deep-sea Fishing Act.

Also shelved – amid the breakdown in cross-Strait communications after the Tsai Ing-wen administration took office – was consideration of the draft Statute on Supervision of Cross-Strait Agreements. In the absence of such legislation defining the LY’s oversight role for trade agreements between Taiwan and China, the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement has been in limbo since being signed in June 2013 and negotiation of a similar agreement on merchandise trade has stalled.

One of the major bills passed by the LY was the controversial “Act on Disposal of Improperly Acquired Assets by Political Parties and Affiliated Organizations,” which was enacted on July 25 over the strong opposition of the KMT, the target of the law. Regarded by the DPP as a milestone in the quest for transitional justice, the act calls for the immediate freezing of the assets of the KMT and its affiliates, such as the National Women’s League and China Youth Corps, pending investigation as to whether the assets were obtained through favoritism during the era of KMT one-party rule. The LY’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee also passed a first reading of a broader Statute on the Promotion of Transitional Justice that is expected to be enacted in the fall session.

In retaliation, the KMT caucus raised 1,500 motions regarding the budgets of state enterprises, each requiring a separate tally. The DPP took up the challenge, beginning nonstop round-the-clock voting on the motions in an attempt to complete the budget approvals before the end of the session. When after two days a Legislative Yuan staffer collapsed from exhaustion, however, the two sides agreed to put off further voting until the next session when an inter-party consultation on the budgets will take place.

Another measure passed in this session, through cooperation between the DPP and the small New Power Party, was revocation of the Red Cross Society Act, which had placed the Red Cross of the ROC in a privileged position, exempt from many regulations governing other non-governmental organizations.

However, the DPP government suffered a setback in its attempt to revise the Labor Standards Law to stipulate that employees receive one absolute day off, with a second day on which they could agree to accept the employer’s request to work overtime for double payment. The proposal met with opposition not only from the KMT and New Power Party caucuses but also from some DPP legislators, with the objectors demanding strict adherence to a five-day workweek.