Plain Language Bills Aid Democracy
The Center again applauds Representative Bruce Braley (IA), who recently sent a letter to Republican leaders encouraging a change to their proposed Rules of the House. Congressman Braley asked them to add a provision that would require Committees to post a Plain Language section-by-section summary of all bills on their public websites 72 hours before a bill is considered on the House Floor.
“This Plain Language requirement will give … all Americans, a better understanding of what Congress is working on,” said Braley. “Taxpayers have a right to see, in plain, straightforward language, how the federal government is spending their money and to hold legislators accountable.”
Why is this effort so important?
When South Africa wrote their constitution in 1996, the drafters mandated that laws be written in plain language. As Nelson Mandala so eloquently stated “First, people must understand that it is in their interests, as well as in that of the community as a whole, that they should live their lives in accordance with the rules and all the rules. Second they must know what those rules are…It is impossible to know the rules of our democracy if these rules are written in abstruse legal language.”
How can the public have their own, unmanipulated opinions if they are unable to understand laws and regulations? Pundits spent considerable time explaining to the public what was in the recent healthcare reform bill. Imagine how different those conversations would have been had the public been able to understand the bill. Or at the least, had a plain language version available to them.
We support clarity and transparency and believe that democracy is extraordinarily influenced by the engagement of an informed public; however, we can only be informed if we understand.