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Sen. Bennett Blocks Plain Language Bill

September 15, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Once again, the Senate proves to be the place where common sense, good-government initiatives go to die.

Most famously during this session, some Senate Republicans have managed to block a bill to update the current system for filing campaign finance forms, an absurd labyrinth of printers, scanners and snail mail, by requiring senators to file their forms electronically. The House of Representatives and presidential candidate have been filing electronically for years. But when you bring an idea like this to the Senate – the bill’s been brought to the Senate floor for a vote at least three times this year – it always seems to get blocked.

Another non-controversial, good-government bill has just fallen victim to the Senate. The Plain Language in Government Communications Act, which would require the Government to write all forms that explain how to do your taxes or apply for government benefits in plain, understandable English, is being held up by Senator Rob Bennett (R-UT).

The bill passed the House by a vote of 376-1 in April.


>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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