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Russia's Law Nursery: St. Petersburg Takes Lead In Steering Social Policy

Being unemployed for more than six months could become a crime in Russia, punishable by up to one year of "corrective labor."
Being unemployed for more than six months could become a crime in Russia, punishable by up to one year of "corrective labor."

Legislators from St. Petersburg plan to introduce in the State Duma amendments to federal law that would make it illegal to be unemployed for more than six months, Izvestia reported on April 27. The crime would be punishable by up to one year of "corrective labor."

"Parasitism" was a crime in Soviet times and a similar bill was recently enacted in neighboring Belarus.

"Labor should be viewed as an honorable and important obligation of each citizen," the legislators wrote in an appeal asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to support the bill. "Many people now view their personal freedom as some sort of right to be a sponger and a social parasite."

There are currently some 18 million unemployed Russians, according to the Labor Ministry.

In recent months, St. Petersburg has become something of a factory for new legislative initiatives in the realm of social policy. The northern capital was the first city to pass a law criminalizing the promotion of nontraditional lifestyles. The so-called gay-propaganda law was adopted nationally in June 2013.

Here are a few other ideas that have percolated out of St. Petersburg to the State Duma in Moscow:

No Twerking

Controversial St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov -- author of the original "gay propaganda" ban -- has proposed amendments to existing legislation on education that would ban "ambiguous dances" in institutions for children. The bill was prompted by a controversial twerking performance during a school performance in Orenburg earlier this month:

"The essence of the amendments is that the administrations of clubs, studios, and other organizations would have to get approval for their programs from regional education departments," Milonov told Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

If the changes are adopted in St. Petersburg, Milonov said, he will pass them on to the State Duma.

Benefits For 'War Children'

In September 2014, St. Petersburg lawmakers asked the State Duma to adopt a national law that would provide state benefits to citizens who were less than 18 years old when World War II ended in Europe in May 1945. The lawmakers have already authorized a monthly stipend of 1,500 rubles ($30) for local war children.

Earlier the same month, Duma Deputy Igor Zotov asked the authorities in Crimea -- the Ukrainian Black Sea region that was annexed by Moscow in March 2014 -- to provide such benefits to war children because they had already been receiving them under Ukrainian law.

During a press conference in April 2014, Putin promised that residents of Crimea would have "all the benefits and privileges that citizens of Crimea had as part of Ukraine…plus all Russian benefits."

Taxing Your Pet

In December 2014, St. Petersburg lawmakers submitted to the Duma draft legislation that would introduce an annual tax of 1,000 rubles ($20) per domestic animal. Pets that have been spayed or neutered would be charged just 100 rubles.

In January, the initiative was backed by lawmakers from Moscow. Under the Soviet Union, pet owners had to register their pets and pay a fee, practices that were ended in 1994.

Rest For Children

In February, St. Petersburg lawmakers announced they would ask the Duma to adopt a law limiting the school week to just five days for small children. Deputy Milonov told a local newspaper that six-day school weeks were too exhausting and were "having a deleterious effect on the health of the younger generation."

The Russian government and the Duma's Education Committee have stated there is no need for a law banning classes on Saturdays.

Moral Education

St. Petersburg lawmakers last month began considering a bill to introduce "spiritual-moral training" to the public school program. The bill calls for "raising spiritual personalities…capable of self-regulating their behavior in accord with their conscience and the norms of the spiritual culture of the nation."

Although the legal department of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly has said the proposed legislation is subjective and has a "legally undetermined character," supporters say they intend to send the bill to the State Duma for national consideration if local lawmakers adopt it.

One That Didn't Fly

In October 2014, a committee in St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly rejected a bill introduced by Communist Party lawmakers that would have required the city to give one hectare of land to each resident for a "family estate." The land would be passed down to the next generation under strict rules of primogeniture.

Liberal St. Petersburg lawmaker Boris Vishnevsky told a local newspaper that he wondered why the Communist lawmakers did not seek legislation offering to return the "family estates" that were confiscated by the Soviet government after the 1917 revolution.

He also expressed surprise that the legislation did not authorize the city to give each citizen "200 serfs" to work on their "family estates" as well.

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