Time runs out on bills

Cayman Islands lawmakers were successful in pushing through a variety of long-awaited and important laws in the final days before the Legislative Assembly was dissolved ahead of the 20 May general elections.

However, a number of key pieces of legislation remained at the drawing board as the final session wound down Monday evening.

There was no sign of the National Conservation Bill, despite repeated claims that the plan would be tabled before the dissolution of the LA. The bill, which seeks to revamp the way Cayman’s environmental protection policies are enforced, was brought to Cabinet on Tuesday, 17 March.

The proposal seeks to change how Cayman designates and protects environmentally sensitive areas, how protected species of wildlife are designated and protected, and regulatory practices for controlling non-indigenous forms of plants and underwater life.

The original draft proposal for the National Conservation Bill came before the Legislative Assembly in 2002.

The proposal has been criticised by members of the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers’ Association who fear the new bill will give unelected civil servants the power to restrict development. Department of Environment officials have said the latest draft of the bill does no such thing.

‘There are strong views on both sides of the issue,’ Environment Minister Charles Clifford said in December. ‘We have to strike the right balance in bringing this legislation to the house.’

Although some changes in Customs tariffs were made in the legislative session that just ended, the overhaul of the entire tariff system government had been seeking since mid-2007 never happened.

Legislative changes that were approved made only temporary reductions in stamp duty charged to those purchasing property and gave those importing products used in construction a short-term break.

The Customs Tariff Bill, 2009 sought to revamp tariffs and add some 200 pages of new product categories to the list of importable items. Charges on some of those items increased, and new categories of items were listed that had not been specifically identified before.

Lawmakers had previously attempted to pass the bill in three LA meetings, but were not successful.

Another government proposal that passed in the Legislative Assembly back in February 2005, but that was not implemented by the government in the next four years was the graduated licensing programme for young drivers.

The idea with the programme is to provide a step-by-step process that teenage drivers must complete before earning a full time licence. After taking a test to earn a Teenage Learner’s Licence, young drivers would be given a certain amount of time to clock road hours with a qualified driving professional.

In mid-2007 the graduated licensing programme was put on hold indefinitely after Roads Minister Arden McLean became concerned that the cost of such a training programme might prevent young drivers from ever getting a licence.

No further movement was seen on the proposal during 2008.

Recommendations for a Disabilities Bill in Cayman that would improve access to public and private buildings, improve mental and physical health care treatment policies, and ensure that the disabled would not be discriminated against in hiring or movement was addressed in this legislative session. However, an actual bill seemed at least another year away.

A comprehensive review of disabilities policies in other countries was completed by a task force nominated by Education Minister Alden McLaughlin following a report from the Complaints Commissioner’s office in 2005 that identified many disparities in the treatment and rights of the mentally and physically disabled in the Cayman Islands.

The group made a number of recommendations, including those requiring retro-fitted improvements to allow disabled access to buildings and a requirement that employers hire a certain number of disabled people. The group also recommended Cayman’s various laws that deal with mental and physical disability issues should be consolidated and combined, and that a National Disabilities Council should be formed.

None of those issues have made it into the actual text of a bill that came before the LA.

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