2007 top stories: Legislative limbo

This is the final segment in a series chronicling the top stories of 2007.

Several pieces of important legislation were expected to be passed and come into effect in 2007 that did not.

Smoking in public

A bill restricting smoking in public places has yet to be passed.

Perhaps the most glaring example was the Tobacco Law, which is expected to bring the Cayman Islands more in line with the rest of the western world when it comes to smoking in public places.

Tobacco legislation was first proposed by former Minister of Health Gilbert McLean in 2004. When current Minister of Health Anthony Eden took office in May 2005, he said shortly afterwards that he supported legislation that would restrict the sale and usage of tobacco.

Speaking at a Cabinet press briefing in September of that year, Mr. Eden expected a draft bill by the end of 2005 and a final bill to come to Parliament in March 2006.

After many delays, a discussion white paper bill was finally laid on the table of the Legislative Assembly in March of 2007. Mr. Eden said the public would have 60 days to peruse the bill and offer feedback and then a final bill would be drafted after that consultation.

In its draft form, the bill would have prohibited smoke in public places including bars, restaurants, parks, concert and convention halls, and sports stadia. It would also put restrictions on the sale, advertising and display of tobacco products.

The proposed legislation ran into trouble almost immediately. During a Chamber of Commerce luncheon later in March, the Tobacco Bill was picked apart by a local attorney, who found several errors and ambiguities in the law. He also pointed out that much of the law would be guided by regulations issued by Cabinet that had not been drafted.

The bill also ran afoul of the owners of Cayman’s many cigar bars, which cater to a specific clientele. Most of Cayman’s cigar bars sell high-end Cuban cigars, which are illegal to sell in the United States and therefore offer mystique to the American visitor.

After the 60-day public consultation period passed, the Bill languished. Asked about it in a Cabinet press briefing in July, Mr. Eden said he hoped the refined bill would be presented in Legislative Assembly in the meeting that began 31 August. That did not happen.

Nor did the Tobacco Bill come back to the house in the meeting that began in October.

Graduated licences

Another piece of legislation that has remained in legislative limbo is the amendment to the Traffic Law that would introduce graduated driver’s licences for young drivers

An amendment pertaining to graduated licences was actually passed unanimously in the Legislative Assembly in February 2005, by the UDP government. The bill received strong support at the time by current Minister of Communications, Works and Infrastructure Arden McLean.

Under the graduated licensing system envisioned by that law, all people under the age of 20 would have to first get a learner’s permit and then, after a period of supervised driving, move on to a restricted licence.

Teenagers would have then had two options, either obtain 24 hours of practical driving experience with at least five hours from a qualified instructor, or obtain 40 hours of practical driving experience over a six-month period.

In either case, drivers with restricted licences could not drive between the hours of 10am and 5 pm.

Although the law was passed, it was never implemented by Cabinet.

In January 2007, Mr. McLean said he had intended to implement the graduated licence law on 1 January; however, anomalies and omission to the law were found and the government withdrew the proposed date.

Mr. McLean eventually said the revised law should be introduced in the Legislative Assembly meeting in July. That did not happen, nor has it been introduced in subsequent meetings of the House.

Another long-languishing piece of legislation is the National Conservation Law. The white paper for the law was originally tabled in the Legislative Assembly in 2002. However, there was no feedback from the public at that time.

A white paper National Conservation was tabled again in the Legislative Assembly in March of 2007. This time, there was feedback from the public, some of it not supportive.

One of the most controversial aspects of the bill involves the requirement for environmental impact assessments to be down on all major development projects to ensure the environmental consequences are examined. Some property owners feel the law would take away their rights.

Minister of Environment Charles Clifford said it was his intention to table the National Conservation green bill in the House for debate during the September meeting; that did not happen.

Several other bills have hit snags in their legislative journey in 2007 as well, including the Legal Practitioners Bill; the Firearms (Amendment) Bill; and the Private Security Services Bill.