MPs stretch House limits over bill

A bill designed to limit smoking and drinking was essentially hijacked by a number of MPs yesterday as they tried to tag on amendments that had nothing to do with the substance of the draft law, in a move that provoked the ire of some of their colleagues. The new law seeks to place stricter penalties on those caught selling cigarettes and alcohol to minors. It also introduces a ban on smoking in public places. In fact, Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos revealed yesterday that the ban on smoking in restaurants, bars, offices and public transport, is to come into effect on July 1, 2009, and not on January 1, 2010, as originally planned. The adoption of the reforms six months ahead of plans was decided upon after organizations pointed out that it would be easier for smokers to adapt to the measures in the summer, Avramopoulos said. However, the passage of the bill was overshadowed by MPs efforts to add on 24 unrelated amendments that mostly had to do with settling matters that pertain to their particular regions. Some deputies vented their anger at what they saw as a blatant abuse of the parliamentary process. «I support MPs’ rights to be free to express their opinion in this chamber,» said Deputy Health Minister Giorgos Papageorgiou. «It is also acceptable and necessary for a deputy to use any chance he has to promote the needs of his region but it is not acceptable for there to be no reference to the actual bill.» Parliament Speaker Dimitris Sioufas also used the opportunity to pass an amendment that extends the period of time that civil servants are reassigned to the offices of MPs and parliamentary parties. Their tenure was due to end this month but deputies unanimously voted to extend it to the end of 2011.

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