Important draft laws. Issue 14: Regulation of Telegram channels, short-term contracts for service members, and participation of children in legal proceedings

Important draft laws. Issue 14: Regulation of Telegram channels, short-term contracts for service members, and participation of children in legal proceedings

Photo: unsplash.com / Amin Moshrefi
10 April 2024
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A review of draft laws registered from March 18 to 31, 2024 

During this period, 43 bills were registered, including nine government bills and 34 from people’s deputies. For the fourth consecutive week, no presidential bills were registered in Parliament. The main topics during the two weeks were strengthening social protection for internally displaced persons, workers in the event of enterprise downtime, and children during court proceedings concerning them.

Introduction of short-term military service contract

Bill No. 11124 proposes introducing a new type of military service under short-term contracts during martial law. 

Eligibility criteria: Citizens of Ukraine who (1) are reserved for the mobilization period; (2) have previously served in the Armed Forces or other military formations of Ukraine or completed a course of basic military training; (3) have voluntarily applied to enter such military service; and (4) are deemed fit for service based on their health condition. The enlistment of such individuals is carried out only with the consent of the enterprises that have reserved these individuals. 

Contract duration: Not less than 14 days.

Purpose: Temporary staffing of military positions, mobilization of conscripts with “deficit” military specialties, execution of specific combat (special) tasks, and other cases.

Features: The contract is not extended beyond the established period; the individual retains the right to deferment (reservation) and is entitled to enter into a new short-term contract. During such service, individuals enjoy all rights and privileges provided by legislation on the social and legal protection of military personnel and their families. The last provision regarding privileges requires clarification, as it may seem unfair at first glance that a person who has served just over two weeks receives the same rights and social protection as a military member who has been in service for over two years.

Protecting children’s rights during court hearings and considering their interests during parental divorce proceedings

Bills 11110 and 11108 propose amendments to Articles 171 and 19 of the Family Code, respectively. Courts and guardianship authorities would be required to hear the child’s opinion in cases related to them (if it is impossible to do so, the court or guardianship authorities must indicate the reasons for this in their decision). In addition, guardianship authorities must consider the child’s opinion in their conclusions if the child agrees to express it. Currently, the law provides for the child’s right to express their opinion. However, the child only sometimes has the opportunity to exercise this right. For example, last year’s study by the DEJURE Foundation showed that in civil cases concerning the rights and interests of children, courts inquire about their opinion only in one out of five cases. Both bills aim to ensure the child’s participation in the decision-making process concerning their life and well-being.

Bill No. 11121 aims to regulate situations where parents live separately but jointly raise a child. Suppose the child refuses to communicate with the parent they do not live with. In that case, the guardianship and custodianship authority must develop a plan of action (which the court must approve) to help implement the court decision regarding the participation of both parents in the child’s upbringing. If the parent living with the child fails to comply with this plan, they must compensate for the damages caused to the other parent, who lives separately from the child. The explanatory note mentions that the bill will promote both parents’ participation in the child’s upbringing. However, how the child’s interests would be considered if they do not wish to see one of the parents is still being determined.

Identification of individuals responsible for causing material damages to the state, regions, or local communities

Bill No. 11134 establishes that officials or relevant government bodies responsible for causing damages to the state, regions, or communities would be liable for such losses. Accordingly, these individuals or government bodies, rather than bona fide property acquirers (buyers who purchased an item from someone who did not have the right to sell it, and the buyer did not know or could not have known), would compensate for such losses.

This bill introduces a new type of liability, namely collective compensation for damage caused to the state. Responsibility for such harm would be borne not only by officials who made unlawful decisions or failed to act according to their duties but also by all other individuals who adopted these decisions. Therefore, if the decision leading to the loss of state property was made collectively, all those who voted for this decision may be defendants in court. 

Bill No. 11135 further strengthens the protection of rights for bona fide property acquirers. It proposes prohibiting the arrest of immovable property (including land) if it belongs to a bona fide acquirer. Consideration of a petition for the arrest of property during pre-trial investigation must necessarily involve the property owner or their representative.

Social protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs)

Draft law No. 11112 proposes:

  • To grant IDPs the right to independently determine their needs through a personal account in the Unified Database for Internally Displaced Persons maintained by the Ministry of Social Policy. Currently, the database is populated by regional departments of social protection based on applications from IDPs;
  • To legislatively provide for the realization of IDPs’ right to housing through implementing state and local programs, such as providing social housing and temporary accommodation, preferential loans for housing purchase, and the possibility of buying out housing under financial leasing. Such rights already exist in the current legislation, including the provision of housing, preferential loans, and the possibility of buying out leased housing;
  • To provide IDPs under the age of 18 with assistance for accommodation for UAH 3,196 (the subsistence minimum for this category) throughout the entire period of martial law. 

The implementation of this project would require funds from the state and local budgets. However, the author does not provide financial-economic justification for the initiative. He only mentions that currently, about 2.5 million IDPs receive state aid. 

Attempt to provide social protection for workers in the event of enterprise downtime

Bill No. 11109 proposes amendments to the Labor Code of Ukraine regarding compensation for downtime* during wartime or a state of emergency. This bill suggests compensating downtime, which arises from circumstances independent of the worker, at the expense of the State Budget of Ukraine. The government will develop the procedure for such payment.

* According to the Labor Code, downtime is the cessation of work caused by the absence of organizational or technical conditions necessary for work, force majeure, or other circumstances. Downtime not caused by the employee’s fault, including during a quarantine period established by the government, shall be paid at a rate of not less than two-thirds of the tariff rate established for the employee’s category (salary).

Since downtime at enterprises during wartime is quite common (alarms, shelling, etc.), implementing this bill would require significant budgetary funds, although the author thinks otherwise. It is unlikely that the state can afford such expenses during a war when all resources are directed toward defense.

Increasing liability for failure to yield to emergency vehicles and police

Bill No. 11111 strengthens accountability for obstructing traffic. The project concerns the failure to give way to emergency vehicles, ambulances, fire brigades, and police when they are moving with flashing lights or sirens on. This also includes creating obstacles for the movement of public transport vehicles (buses, trolleybuses, trams), especially those engaged in transporting groups of children, in the designated lane for public transport.

The proposed fine for such violation is suggested to increase from 40 to 100-150 non-taxable minimum incomes of citizens (from UAH 680 to UAH 1,700-2,550) and to add to the fine a driver’s license suspension for a period of six months to one year. If these violations have caused or could have caused a threat to life or health, a fine of UAH 3,400-5,100 (200-300 non-taxable minimum incomes) and a driving license suspension for five to ten years are provided. 

Informing citizens about medical services provided free of charge in hospitals

The legislation mandates that medical institutions must inform patients about medical services and medications that are free of charge through the medical guarantees program. Bill No. 11120 specifies this obligation: the information must be available on the websites and within the premises of medical institutions.

In small villages, wills could be certified by village heads

Bill No. 11117 establishes that if there is no notary in a settlement, wills could be certified by the decision of the executive committee of the relevant local council. In rural councils representing territorial communities with fewer than 500 residents and where no executive committee has been formed, wills could be certified by the village head. These changes would make the procedure for drafting wills more accessible to people living in remote areas.

Regulation of Telegram channels

In recent years, internet platforms have been developing rapidly so that we can communicate and receive information. However, with the advancement of this space, security, transparency, and accountability issues have become more acute. Bill No. 11115 aims to address these aspects.

The draft law categorizes providers of shared access platforms to information (such as Telegram) as online media platforms. It requires that they comply with relevant sections of the Law on Media. 

The legislative requirements for such providers mostly mirror those already existing for video-sharing platforms (such as YouTube, TikTok, and similar ones). Expressly, transparent terms of service must be provided, age verification of users accessing potentially harmful information must be conducted, information must comply with copyright and related rights legislation, and so forth. Providers must ensure the presence of their representative in Ukraine for communication with the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting and state and local authorities. A new requirement is also the disclosure of ownership structure and sources of platform funding.

This is intended to increase transparency in the media space and reduce interference by anonymous entities, including those from aggressor countries. If it is impossible to obtain information from the service about its owners (if they do not respond to requests, lack representation, or fail to provide necessary documents), then the ownership would be considered non-transparent. State authorities, officials, and providers of financial services would not be able to use platforms with non-transparent ownership structures for mass media dissemination.

Increase in excise taxes on tobacco and cigarettes

Bill No. 11090 provides for a gradual increase in the cigarette excise tax. It aims to implement Directive 2011/64/EU, which sets a minimum excise duty on cigarettes in EU member states at 90 euros per 1000 pieces.

Since 2018, Ukraine has had a plan to increase excise duty on manufactured tobacco by 20% annually (we wrote about this in 2020). This plan was supposed to ensure compliance with the requirements of the previously mentioned EU Directive by 2025. However, because excise rates in our legislation are set in the national currency, and the hryvnia has devalued relative to the euro in recent years, the excise in Ukraine is currently approximately EUR 60 per 1000 cigarettes. By 2025 (if the exchange rate remains unchanged), it will reach EUR 70, which does not meet the directive’s requirements. 

Therefore, the bill proposes to establish excise rates in euros. For example, the excise duty on 1000 filtered cigarettes is UAH 2,257.4 (EUR 53 at the NBU exchange rate). It is proposed that it be set at EUR 67. Excise tax rates would increase gradually, starting from July 1 of this year. From January 1, 2028, the new excise tax rates would correspond to the minimum rates in EU countries, i.e., EUR 90 per 1000 cigarettes.

Simplification of reporting for political parties during wartime

In December 2023, Ukraine resumed reporting by political parties on property, income, expenses, and financial obligations, which had been suspended since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. However, with the onset of the war, certain problems arose, such as political party assets being located in areas of active hostilities or territories not controlled by Ukraine or the activities of a political party falling under sanctions, with its leaders fleeing abroad. Bills 11074, 11074-1, and 11074-2 propose solutions to these problems.

Bill No. 11074 proposes exempting political parties from liability for submitting incomplete information on property, income, expenses, and financial obligations to the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) if such information cannot be obtained from local party organizations in areas of active hostilities or temporarily occupied territories. 

Bill No. 11074-1 also proposes introducing a simplified procedure for terminating political parties in a state of dissolution based on a court decision. This bill stipulates that if a court decision dissolves a political party with debts for salary or tax payments, these debts are to be paid from the party’s assets, which are then transferred to state ownership. If the party’s assets are insufficient to cover these debts, the payment is to be made from the state budget (it is quite strange for taxpayers to cover the salaries of party employees). All other creditor claims are considered settled, which contradicts the Civil Code of Ukraine, particularly Article 112, which establishes the priority of debt payments to creditors.

Bill No. 11074-2 also exempts political parties from liability for submitting incomplete information about their assets if such information cannot be obtained due to the loss of access to information resources or loss of documents due to a military conflict. The bill stipulates that political parties must provide this data after the end of the military conflict or after restoring access to the data. It also provides that the debts of local organizations must be settled by the political party within a month after the cessation or cancellation of martial law but not before the restoration of Ukraine’s state sovereignty over temporarily occupied territories.

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