Czech amendment will abolish municipal consent to housing benefits
The dramatic, protracted dispute over an amendment which some experts believe could push more than 20 000 people in the Czech Republic "onto the street" has hit another milestone. The Government has tasked Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová with elaborating an amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress that will abolish municipal consent as a condition of the disbursal of housing benefits.
Municipal consent was the critical part of the previous amendment, as some municipalities used this power to reject across the board all applications for housing benefits filed by people living in residential hotels. The motion for elaborating a new amendment was recently submitted to the Government by its Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs.
Legislators approved the amendment requiring municipal consent last fall. Some experts, including Czech Senator Jiří Dienstbier, who is also Human Rights Minister but who ultimately did not vote against the amendment, have basically warned of its risks from the beginning.
Politicians evidently did not fully realize its horrific potential, however, until more than a month after the amendment took effect at the beginning of May. First, in mid-June Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka announced it was essential that the law, on which he did not vote last year, be amended to remove the municipal consent requirement.
Several days later Dienstbier joined him, adding that the existing legislation is ill-conceived, not systematic, not thought through and is causing problems; while he spoke against the amendment last year in the Senate, he was unable to convince anyone else of its flaws and abstained from voting on it. Several days later, Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec changed his analysis of the existing amendment and stated that the municipal decisions on housing benefits are not binding on the state Labor Office but are only one recommendation of many to consider when awarding benefits (he also did not vote on the legislation last year).
The Labor Office, according to this new analysis, can disburse housing benefits despite a municipality's rejection of them. That interpretation was welcomed by Marksová, who is not also a legislator and was therefore unable to cast a vote on the issue, but she has continued to emphasize that the new amendment must be agreed on with the municipalities.
According to her previous comments, the paragraph on municipal consent to housing benefit disbursal should remain in the law. Czech ombud Anna Šabatová has called for the paragraph to be removed.
Now the Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs has called for its removal as well. Municipalities, however, want to retain their influence over the operation of residential hotels on their territories.
"We want residential hotels to operate under the same administrative regime as gaming rooms or restaurants. A municipality may restrict the operations of any facility that disrupts public order. We would like residential hotels to be in the same position," Dan Jiránek, Executive Director of the Union of Cities and Municipalities, said in an interview for the weekly RESPEKT.
In other words, the municipalities are not insisting on the power to agree with the disbursal of housing benefits to specific people. They want the option of closing entire residential hotels.
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