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Battle of the bill - Annetta Cheek

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How do you get your legislature to pass a bill supporting plain language? This paper will explore the efforts of plain language supporters to get the United States Congress to pass a bill requiring ...

How do you get your legislature to pass a bill supporting plain language? This paper will explore the efforts of plain language supporters to get the United States Congress to pass a bill requiring federal agencies to write certain documents in plain language. I’ll report on where we are, how we got there, and what happens next.

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    Battle of the bill -  Annetta Cheek Battle of the bill - Annetta Cheek Presentation Transcript

    • The battle of the bill – Plain language in the US government
      Dr. Annetta L. Cheek
      Lisbon | 12 Oct. 2010
    • How it all started
      • In the early 90s, some federal employees started pushing for plain language.
      • In 1994, they held their first “Plain English Workshop” – focusing on clear regulations.
      • The group started meeting regularly, and still meets monthly in Washington, DC. It’s now called PLAIN.
    • PLAIN has a great website
    • How PLAIN supports plain language
      Holds monthly meetings on plain language topics
      Offers free half day training to any federal agency – has training at least 8000 employees in these courses
      Developed the “Federal Plain Language Guidelines” for agencies to use - http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/reader-friendly.cfm
    • Clinton Administration Initiatives
      The Clinton Administration, 1992 through 2000, was a highpoint in plain language in the government.
      Many agencies were very active in plain language – the Security and Exchange Commission, Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, Health and Human Services, and many others
      Clinton issued a presidential memo in 1998 - http://www.plainlanguage.gov/whatisPL/govmandates/memo.cfm
    • Clinton Administration Initiatives -2
      Vice President Gore started an awards program – the no-gobbledygook awards
      http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/award_winning/nogobbledygook.cfm
      The awards attracted a lot of press attention
      They built enthusiasm among federal employees
    • And then came the Bush Administration
    • So we decided we’d try to get a law
    • What did we think a law would achieve?
      It would not be a silver bullet – federal writers would not start writing clearly over night
      It would support all the federal employees who are trying to get their agencies to write more clearly
      It would make federal agencies aware that Congress cares about clear communication – even if they don’t communicate clearly themselves!
    • It would give citizens a tool – it would help them insist that federal agencies write more clearly
    • How does the US Congress work?
      For most matters, to get a law, you must get a bill through both chambers – House and Senate
      That means you need two bills, and two sponsors, one in each Chamber
    • 2006
      A Republican representative from Michigan introduced a bill addressing only regulations.
      There was a hearing on the bill, but we couldn’t get a Senate version introduced, so the effort died.
    • 2007
      After a lot of visiting and talking and visiting and talking on Capitol Hill, we found a sponsor for a bill, freshman Congressman Bruce Braley of Iowa – a former trial attorney.
    • The Plain Language in Government Act of 2007
      We also found a Senate sponsor – Daniel Akaka, from Hawaii.
    • 2007 bills
      • Addressed documents written for the public
      • Required government-wide guidance
      • Required agency training
      • Required agency lead official
      • Required agency reporting on progress
      • Did not cover regulations
    • In 2007
      House voted on the bill, and passed it, 376 to 1
      In the Senate, a conservative Republic Senator put “hold” on the bill, and it never came to a vote
      Each “congress” is 2 years. When that congress ends, all pending legislation dies
      So in 2009, we had to start over
    • 2009
      Same two Congressmen – Braley and Akaka – reintroduced similar bills
      House passed the bill, this time 386 to 33
      The same Republican Senator put a hold on the bill – again!
      Just a couple weeks ago, he agreed to lift the hold
    • How did we make that happen?
      We called everyone we could think of who might be able to influence him and asked them to contact him
      We enlisted
      a law professor from his home state
      a manager at an important firm in his home state
      an important small business group in another state - the group asked their Republican Senator to talk to him for us
      the National Small Business Association
    • And Mr. Braley – the House sponsor – had a meeting with him and asked him to lift his hold
    • What’s next for these bills?
      Still have to get the Senate bill to a floor vote
      Then the House has to vote on it again, since getting that Senator to lift his hold required some changes, and both chambers must pass the same version
      So, will we get a law this year . . .
    • And if we don’t succeed this year
      We’ll try again in the next Congress
    • And if we do succeed this year
      We’ll be back next year, trying to get one that addresses regulations
    • Dr. Annetta L. Cheek
      Chair
      Center for Plain Language
      annettalcheek@gmail.com