Czech Senate Committee on Social Policy recommends rejection of bill authorizing attachment of welfare benefits over local unpaid fines
The Committee on Social Policy of the Czech Senate has recommended the upper house reject a bill making it possible for people who repeatedly fail to pay fines levied for selected misdemeanors to lose part of their welfare benefits, specifically, the housing supplement and the subsistence contribution. Local authorities would be allowed to deduct amounts equivalent to the unpaid fines from the monthly welfare payments of those who owe them.
Critics on the committee said the bill is dicriminatory and does not contribute a solution to the problem described. The Senate will discuss the proposed amendment to Act No. 111/2006, Coll., on aid to those in material distress, at their 15th session scheduled to open on 18 August.
Local authorities would be allowed to deduct the amount of unpaid fines for misdemeanors committed against public order, civic coexistence or property from these welfare benefits if the bill were to become law. They would also be allowed to do so for fines levied for failture to register a child for compulsory school attendance or neglecting to make sure a pupil regularly attends legally mandated education.
Those who fail to pay fines for violating municipal ordinances establishing conditions for holding cultural or sports events would also have the amounts deducated from their benefits. The bill states that the "one and done" principle would apply to fines levied against guardians who support and tolerate children's truancy.
For all of the other misdemeanors, benefits could only be attached after the levying of a third fine. Local authorities would, however, be able to request such a deduction after a first or second misdemeanor if the concern should arise that there would be no other way to punish the perpetrator and that the perpetrator would make just a minimal effort to correct the situation.
Labor Offices would have no choice but to deduct the amounts of the unpaid fines from the benefits prior to their disbursal. The money would then be sent directly to local municipalities.
The bill has been supported by Czech Senator Jiří Vosecký. Given that this sanction would also cover non-compliance with school attendance, he emphasized the need to educate young people and ensure they attend school.
"It is necessary to harden the line, I absolutely agree with this law," Czech Senator Rostislav Koštial said. In his view it is aimed at those who break the rules.
The rapporteur for the bill, Czech Senator Jitka Chalánková, has also been recommending adopting the amendment. She said the Czech Government should address the situation in excluded localities comprehensively, but in her view that has not happened.
Chalánková noted that the number of socially excluded localities in the country is growing, as is the number of people living in them. Czech Senator Adéla Šípová, however, criticized the amendment and recommended rejecting it.
Šípová said the bill is discriminatory towards certain people and aimed at the poorest of the poor, who will not be left with anything to live on. She has been warning that the bill does not satisfactorily address the reviewability of the relevant decision and there will therefore be significant differences in the approaches to its enforcement taken by each municipality.
"The consequences of this are so malign that I just cannot vote in favor of it," said Czech Senator Miluše Horská, who chairs the Committee on Social Policy. In her view, the problem should not be addressed by such a bad, one-off solution.
The proposed amendment is not part of a comprehensive bill and circumvents the Act on Misdemeanors, according to Horská. Czech Senator Šárka Jelínková has also been pointing out that if adopted, the law would affect not just those who have committed the misdemeanors and failed to pay their fines, but also their children and other family members.
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