Laws Should Be in Plain Language

Monday, 26 Nov 2012 05:49 PM

By Bradley A. Blakeman

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With the 2012 elections behind us and a new Congress about to be sworn in, it is time to take stock of the way we govern and the consequences thereof.

The American people may have elected the status quo in governing but they do not expect it in governance. Citizens are sick and tired of partisanship and procedures and processes that legislators do not understand and the American people cannot make heads or tails of.

The rough draft of the Declaration of Independence was written by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
(AP Photo)
Our founding fathers wrote the documents creating the greatest nation the world has ever known using plain English. Although drafted by highly educated and talented people, they knew that in order to get the public to support their efforts the common as well as the cultured had to understand them.

There is not a doubt in my mind that the average American high school student today can fully understand and appreciate the words and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the amendments thereto including the Bill of Rights.

The same cannot be said of the healthcare bill passed by the House. You need a PHD, a degree in economics and a law degree to fully appreciate the convoluted and highly technical legislation that will affect every single American.

There is no way even the average legislator can fully understand a more than 1,900-page highly technical bill, even with the benefit of an extensive staff.

Highly specialized staffers, government lawyers, lobbyists, industry executives and their lawyers write these bills. They are purposely written to obscure the true intent, meaning and effect of the bills they author.

If as a legislator, you cannot understand a bill, how can you vote on it?

If the American people cannot understand a bill, how can they support it?

For starters, I say that no single bill should exceed 50 pages.

All bills should be required to meet a “plain language” standard. This would force the drafters to make legislation understandable and succinct.

Many states have enacted “plain language” statutes that require consumer contracts to be, “written in a clear and coherent manner using words with common and everyday meanings . . . ” NY General Obligations Law Section: 5-702.

It is ironic that the federal government enacted the “Truth in Lending Act” which requires certain disclosures be made to consumers yet there is no requirement for those disclosures to be written in “plain language”

Our Constitution starts out with, “We the people” not “We the elite,” or “We the legislators.” The people need to understand what their government is doing on their behalf.

The only way to insure a more informed and engaged public is to provide them with information they can understand.

Can’t our legislators understand that?

Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. Read more reports from Bradley Blakeman — Click Here Now.

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