(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 7, 10-11)
SEOUL, June 7 (Yonhap) — The ruling Democratic Party (DP) pledged Monday to legislate a bill this month to compensate small business owners hit by the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
“During the (ongoing provisional) National Assembly session in June, the DP will definitely process the legislation bill on (COVID-19) damage compensation,” party floor leader Rep. Yun Ho-jung said at the opening of the party’s consultation meeting with the government.
“The government should surely be responsible for the damage incurred by infectious disease prevention measures taken to safeguard the health and lives of the people,” the floor leader said, vowing “prompt” support measures for businesses reeling from COVID-19 related losses.
Lawmakers have been trying for months to enact a new law on compensating small businesses and the self-employed whose operations get halted or restricted by the government’s social distancing and other disease prevention orders issued to prevent infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.
The legislative initiative, however, hit a snag amid a controversy over whether the envisioned law should apply retroactively to cover losses registered before the enactment.
Yun said the controversy should no longer delay the enactment efforts, adding the party will seek to lay out “a legal basis” for providing compensation for COVID-19 damage that has already occurred.
According to party officials, the DP will opt not to codify retrospective compensation in the new law and instead resort to other existing acts to provide compensation in the form of “retrospective assistance.”
The floor leader noted the party will also speedily implement separate assistance measures for “management crisis sectors” that were not subject to antivirus social distancing orders but still suffered massive damage due to the pandemic, such as the tourism and performing arts sectors.
The DP’s policy committee chief Rep. Park Wan-joo added the law will seek to codify the scope, recipients, standards and other details of the state’s plan to provide compensation for pandemic-caused financial damage.
The ruling party’s legislative initiative, however, is likely to run into resistance from the opposition bloc, which is demanding the new law guarantee retrospective compensation to make up for the past COVID-19-related losses as well.
The National Assembly plans to begin reviewing the bill Tuesday at a subcommittee of the relevant parliamentary committee.