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Japan’s House of Commons passes a law for state power in emergency situations

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to revise the law on local autonomy, giving the central government the power to issue necessary instructions to local authorities in emergency situations.

The bill was approved by majority vote with support from the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, as well as opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai.

The revision aims to enable rapid responses to ensure the safety of citizens in situations not covered by existing legislation on natural disasters and infectious diseases.

Confusion among central and local authorities over coordinating hospital admissions and sharing information during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the central government to write the revision bill.

It contains a rule that allows the central government to exercise instructional rights in cases where the safety of citizens is seriously compromised, but there are no laws with provisions on how to deal with such a situation.

Instructions from the central government would be considered exceptional measures, based on the principle that state and local governments are on an equal footing.

Procedures, including a cabinet decision, would be needed to issue such instructions, and the central government would have to make efforts to gather opinions from local authorities in advance. The scope of the instructions would be limited to “to the extent necessary”.

The bill was amended, based on the proposal of the LDP, Komeito and Nippon Ishin, to require the central government to report to parliament after issuing an instruction.

The Internal Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives adopted an additional resolution insisting that instructions are “the minimum necessary” and that the opinions of the local government and the actual circumstances are taken into account.

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