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Municipalities reform and work permits on agenda for MPs

Legislators head to parliament this morning for an extension of the first parliamentary session under the new One Bermuda Alliance Government.

Three sittings will be held this month in a bid to complete Government's legislative agenda as articulated in the Throne Speech.

Key bills which are expected to be debated include one establishing the Tourism Authority, municipalities reform and amendments to the work permit regime toughening penalties for rogue employers.

The new work permits regime would give the Chief Immigration Officer power to impose a civil penalty of $5,000 for a first offence and $10,000 for a second or subsequent offence on employers and or employees who violate the rules.

And changes to the Municipalities Act, not mentioned in the Throne Speech, would give the Minister power to approve developments of $1 million, final approval of any resolution deemed to be in the national interest, and restore a form of the business vote for municipal elections.

Government is also expected to seek legislative approval of changes to the Charities Act 1978 which would create a more robust governing framework of the Island's charitable organisations.

The new regime would include offences for non-disclosure and non-distribution of public funds and an expansion of the definition of charitable organisations to include foundations and trusts.

It is unclear whether the gaming referendum bill will be brought to parliament this month. While a referendum was an OBA election promise, it was not mentioned in the Throne Speech and Government messaging on gaming has been inconsistent since taking office.

But Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell may well make a statement on gaming today, and this newspaper understands that Government has decided to bring legislation allowing cruise ships to open their casinos while in port in what may be an incremental strategy to introduce legal gaming to Bermuda.

Government is also expected to push through a slew of tax-related legislation to improve the collection of taxes and make changes to the Contributory Pensions Act Changes to the Contributory Pensions Act to better protect employee benefits over the next three weeks.

In Transport, legislation aimed at increasing aircraft registrations will be proposed, while another amendment will make GPS in taxis optional.

Another Throne Speech promise remaining to be fulfilled is a pledge to table the National Drug Commission Act 2013, which would set out the mandate and functions of the Department for National Drug Control.

Government is also expected to table a National Security Review as a precursor to legislative changes which will ultimately lead to the elimination of conscription.

Several laws pertaining to the mentally ill and the justice system are yet to come to the House of Assembly.

These include amendments to the Mental Health Act 1968 to facilitate assessment and treatment of mentally ill offenders, changing the Magistrates Act 1948 and corresponding legislation to create a Mental Health Treatment Special Court, and amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1907 to allow for the appropriate disposition of mentally ill offenders.

And Government will be seeking to change the law governing the legal aid system in a bid to tame the costs of the programme.

Amendments are also slated to be made to the laws governing the Island's nursing and residential care homes to bring their regulation up to international best practice standards.

And Government will be urging parliament to mandate the prescribing of generic drugs instead of more expensive brand name drugs unless doctors specifically require a brand name product.

Also expected to be debated over the next three weeks are amendments to the Children Act 1998 to include a provision for Shared Parenting Orders.

Legislators have so far approved 25 bills in this first parliamentary session.

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Published September 13, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 13, 2013 at 9:15 am)

Municipalities reform and work permits on agenda for MPs

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