Author Archives: dsbosley
For the past year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, working with Kleimann Communications Group, has run extensive usability testing with consumers throughout the U.S. on the proposed new mortgage disclosure form. This form combines the original Truth in Lending disclosure and the Good Faith Estimate into a single three-page disclosure. Because purchasing a home is likely to be the most expensive and daunting purchase most of us will ever make, it’s critical that we receive clear, usable information that will allow us to compare rates from one lender to another and know exactly the fees we are paying. This new form will help us do that. (more…)
How well are federal agencies adhering to the Plain Writing Act? The Center for Plain Language is issuing a “report card” grading several federal agencies on how well they are implementing the Act. The results will be released at a telephone news briefing on Thursday, July 19, 12 noon, featuring Rep. Bruce Braley (IA), the main sponsor of the Act, and Annetta L. Cheek, PhD, chair of the Center for Plain Language, the nonprofit organization grading the federal agencies.
Joe Kimble, professor of law at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, has just finished his long awaited new book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law. Carolina Academic Press, which also published his earlier book Lifting the Fog of Legalese, is the publisher.
The book sets out the elements of plain language, debunks the 10 biggest myths about it, summarizes 40 historical highlights, and summarizes 50 (no less) studies on the benefits of plain language for everyone–readers, writers, businesses, and government agencies.
Well, he doesn’t actually use the words “plain language,” but Ralph Nader has started an organization called Fair Contracts in which he warns people about what’s hidden in the fine print. He rails against corporations that hide behind obscure language, tiny fonts, and reams of paper no one can understand. In his usual fashion, he encourages consumers to take action against the “fine print.”
Listen to Ralph Nader.
Clarity’s conference in Washington DC in mid-May can’t come soon enough. I’m looking forward to the lift in energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge that attending a plain-language conference always provides. (more…)
You still have time to register for the 2012 Clarity conference, co-hosted by the Center for Plain Language and Scribes (the American Society of Legal Writers). Clarity is an international organization focusing on legal language. As a member of any of these organizations (as many of you are), you receive a special conference rate. (more…)
On January 18, Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced the Plain Regulations Act. Braley also introduced the Plain Writing Act, which became law on October 13, 2010, with strong bipartisan support. The original draft of that Act had covered regulations, but the provision was deleted during the legislative process because of opposition from several sources. (more…)
At last, consumers will have a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” as a standardized, plain language tool to understand their health plans. Under a rule announced last week by HHS, health insurers are now required to provide consumers with clear, consistent, and comparable summary information. Here’s the link:
Testing by Consumers’ Union showed that consumers could use the standardized health information, but the two scenarios about having a baby and treating Type 2 diabetes gave them a better sense of what was covered and the value of health insurance. These scenarios, formatted much like the Nutrition Facts label with plain language a key component, show consumers what proportion of the cost of care a health insurance policy or plan would cover and will help consumers compare across health plans they are considering. One test participant talked about the scenarios as “putting furniture in an empty house” so she could see how she would “live” in the policy.
“All consumers, for the first time, will really be able to clearly comprehend the sometimes confusing language insurance plans often use in marketing,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This will give them a new edge in deciding which plan will best suit their needs and those of their families or employees.”
The new explanations, which will be available beginning, or soon after, September 23, 2012, will be a critical resource for the roughly 150 million Americans with private health insurance today.
Stakeholders as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and a working group composed of health insurance-related consumer advocacy organizations, health insurers, health care professionals, patient advocates including those representing people with limited English proficiency, and others helped to develop the Summary and scenarios. The Center for Plain Language wrote a letter to OMB to support the approval of this important plain language document.
Let us know how you like the Summary!
For example, instead of saying “10-46,” police will now say “disabled vehicle.”
In addition to confusion over the codes themselves, not all police departments used the code to signal the same problems. That means conversations among police departments was particularly difficult during emergencies.
According to a recent article in GazetteNews.com (Maryland Community News Online) written by Jeremy Arias,
Under the former system, several significant misunderstandings used to take place between Montgomery officers and state troopers, Felsen said.
“To them a ‘10-50’ was a routine traffic incident, but in the Montgomery County system prior to 2006, ‘10-50’ was an ‘officer in trouble’ call,” he said. “So we had actual cases where people were on the radio and the wrong message was being used.”
The code problem exists not only within police departments but between fire and police departments. This inconsistency was particularly evident during Sept. 11, 2001, when police and fire agencies from across the nation rushed to help.
“When they got there, many of them were unable to communicate with each other effectively,” said Chris Essid, director of the Office of Emergency Communications for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
According to an article by Sharon Kiley Mack (January 1, 2010) in the Bangor Daily News, nineteen states planned to eliminate the codes in favor of plain language.
Below are the current codes from APCO, an international organization of public safety communications professionals.
We say: 10-15. Message Delivered.
When the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was passed, regulations were not included as part of the Act. That is, the federal government now has to write information that explain benefits and services in plain language, but regulations were omitted. But Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who sponsored the PWA, is back at it. He has introduced Plain Regulations Act (H.R. 3786), to require that regulations be written in plain language.
Why is this another important law?
Small businesses, in particular, waste millions of dollars hiring attorneys or trying to figure out themselves how to comply with regulations they don’t understand. Such overly complex and incomprehensible rules add to an inability to comply.
Braley wants to change that. As he says:
“Whether you like or loathe government regulations, I think everyone can agree that when ne exists it should be written as clearly as possible. Sadly, gobbledygook dominates the regulations issued by government agencies, making it almost impossible for small businesses to understand the rules of the road.
“The Plain Regulations Act would simplify rules, saving small businesses time and freeing up money that can be better used investing in growing the business and creating jobs.
“Simplifying regulations won’t eliminate the costs of compliance, but it will reduce them. And it’s an easy way to save small businesses money that can quickly attract bipartisan support.”
If you’re not convinced, imagine figuring out what this regulation from the construction industry means:
“On or after July 6, 2010, all renovations must be performed in accordance with the work practice standards in §745.85 and the associated recordkeeping requirements in §745.86(b)(1) and (b)(6) in target housing or child-occupied facilities, unless the renovation qualifies for the exception identified in §745.82(a)” with the sub-exception that “emergency renovations are not exempt from the cleaning requirements of §745.85(a)(5), which must be performed by certified renovators or individuals trained in accordance with §745.90(b)(2), the cleaning verification requirements of §745.85(b), which must be performed by certified renovators, and the recordkeeping requirements of §745.86(b)(6) and (b)(7).”
That gave me a headache.
Watch for opportunities to comment on the new bill. Be ready to write/phone/email your Congress people. Share this news with all small businesses. And let Rep. Braley know you appreciate all his efforts on our behalf.