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New Law: Obama Signs 'Plain Writing Act'


"With little fanfare," ABC News explains, "President Obama [last] week signed The Plain Writing Act of 2010."

So what is this new law? In plain English, it ensures you can understand government documents. No jargon. No gibberish. No lie.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires that government documents be written in "plain language," defined as "writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience."

The measure, praised by clear-writing advocates, was opposed by almost three dozen Republican House members initially, and by 80 Republicans after Senate modifications.

“There is no reason why the federal government can’t write these forms and other public documents in a way we can all understand,” said Rep. Bruce Braley’s (D-IA), who introduced the bill to the House in February. “Writing government documents in plain language will increase government accountability and will save Americans time and money."

This isn't the firs time government has tried to clarify its own writing, according to ABC. In the 70s, President Richard Nixon ordered the "Federal Register" be written in "layman's terms."

During the Clinton administration, officials issued monthly "No Gobbledygook Awards" to agencies that ditched confusing copy. Vice President Al Gore even went as far as to call plain language a civil right, and said it promoted trust in government. The effort birthed a government Web site still in operation, www.plainlanguage.gov.

But English teachers and frustrated constituents should not get too excited yet. While each federal agency must designate an overseer for the laws implementation, there are no penalties for agencies or bureaucrats that continue to produce convoluted documents.

ABC gives two examples of the law's early effects:

Consider this advisory from the Department of Health and Human Services: "The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a half hour or more of moderate physical activity on most days, preferably every day. The activity can include brisk walking, calisthenics, home care, gardening, moderate sports exercise, and dancing."

It already has been changed to this: "Do at least 30 minutes of exercise, like brisk walking, most days of the week."

And a fishing directive that said, "After notification of NMFS, this final rule requires all CA/OR DGN vessel operators to have attended one Skipper Education Workshop after all workshops have been convened by NMFS in September," has been changed to, "Vessel operators must attend a skipper education workshop before commencing fishing."

The new law will apply to everything from tax returns to applications for Veterans Administration benefits.

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