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Panama: Law on Congressional Virtual Sessions Enacted

(May 5, 2020) On April 11, 2020, Panama published a law allowing its legislative assembly to conduct virtual sessions in cases of a national emergency or other situations that prevent the assembly from meeting in regular fashion. The original bill of this law explained that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became necessary to introduce online sessions to protect the health and safety of the representatives and congressional staff.

The law provides that the assembly may adopt virtual sessions while it is already in session, or the assembly may be convened for a virtual session while it is in recess. Virtual sessions may be conducted by committees or by the full assembly. However, committee meetings may not take place at the same time that the full assembly is in session.

Virtual sessions are defined as those using internet-based information technologies that allow for two-way communications between members of the legislative assembly during the entire hearing. Proper connectivity of members taking part in online sessions must be certified by assembly staff.

Virtual plenary sessions must take place in accordance with a predetermined agenda that may include filing and discussing bills and the disposition of administrative matters. Assembly members have up to 10 minutes each to address issues on the agenda.

Voting must take place through a system that allows the proper registration of votes in the official assembly records.

Virtual sessions are to be public, may last up to three hours, and must be broadcast by Panama’s public media.