On 16 November the Italian senate, the upper house of the parliament, voted in favour of a contentious devolution bill entailing the first changes to the countrys constitution since its drafting in 1947. However, as the law did not obtain the support of two-thirds of the senate it can still be put to the popular vote if its critics can obtain the half million signatures required for a referendum.
The bill is the brainchild of the one of the parties in the governing coalition, the Lega Nord (Northern League) and its populist leader, Umberto Bossi. The law will devolve several decision-making powers over health, education and law enforcement to Italys 20 regional governments as well as increase the powers of the prime minister at the expense of those of the president. It will also transform the senate into a federal rather than a national chamber.
Opposition parties claim the law will widen Italys north-south divide, a worry echoed by Catholic bishops in the wake of the vote.