Civic Design

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Plain Language bill needs your help

A plain language bill has been working it's way through the US Congress. The bill passed the House several months ago, and we've been working to get the Senate version (S.2291) to the floor for a vote before the end of this session.

We were almost there. Now it's stalled, and we need your help.

We've copied an article below, but Senator Bennett (R. Utah) has blocked the bill on the grounds that it would be a problem for the Federal Election Commission and the Election Assistance Commission. Hmm. We feel a headline coming on: "Clear communication about federal election rules could endanger elections, says US Senator."

There are two simple answers to objections:

1. The law does not apply to regulations

2. Are they really suggesting that information about elections should be hard to understand

Here's how you can help: write or call your Senator, and Senator Bennett's office to express your opinion.

Tip to Whitney Quesenbery for whipping up this call to action.

Now, read the article below:
Utah senator stalls 'plain language' bill

By Terry Kivlan CongressDaily September 15, 2008

A bill mandating the use of "plain language" on government
forms, benefit applications, reports and other documents may languish
this year amid a crowded Senate schedule and an unanticipated hold by
Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah.

The bill would not apply to regulations. It defines "plain
language" as language that "is clear, concise, well organized, and
follows the best practices of language writing."

It would direct the Office of Management and Budget to
issue guidelines for implementing the program within six months and
then monitor compliance among agencies.

In April, the measure cleared the Senate Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs Committee on voice vote, while a similar
measure passed the House 376-1.

It was expected to breeze through the Senate just before
lawmakers left town for their summer recess when Sen. Charles
Grassley, R-Iowa, placed a hold on behalf of Bennett.

According to Bennett aides, he was concerned about its
impact on the Federal Election Commission and the Election Assistance
Commission -- both of which fall under the oversight jurisdiction of
the Senate Rules Committee, where he serves as ranking member.

"The FEC in particular is required to interpret campaign
finance law and issue regulations that are often full of legal terms,"
spokeswoman Tara Hendershott said in an e-mail. "These precise terms
may become lost in translation if [the FEC is] required to use
whatever OMB determines is 'plain English.'" Hendershott added that
while Bennett understands the need for clear communication, "he is
concerned about the unintended consequences of this bill."

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, sponsor of the legislation,
expressed disappointment in Bennett's move. The Hawaii senator said in
a statement that his measure "is a good bipartisan bill that would
improve Americans' access to their government," and "deserves an up or
down vote on the floor." Aides to Akaka and Bennett said last week
that they were discussing compromise language for the legislation but
had not reached an agreement.

Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., is not planning to try
to bring up the bill if Bennett will force him to file cloture,
according to a spokesman. But Bennett has come under pressure from
outside Congress. The National Small Business Association sent him a
letter last week asking him release his hold, arguing that the bill
would "not be a mandate" as such, and that it represented a "common
sense approach to saving small business -- and the federal government
-- time, effort and money."

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