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|State targets bureaucratese to improve communication|
January 06, 2008
If any government entity can confuse the public, it's the tax collectors.
That's why Gale Garriott, director of Arizona's Department of Revenue, was so intrigued when he heard tax collectors from Washington state raving about a program there that was making government easier to understand.
At a conference in late 2005, Garriott heard about Washington's "plain talk" initiative. The revenue department there claims to have collected millions more after rewriting confusing letters to taxpayers.
"I'm thinking 'Really? You just change words on paper and good things will happen?' " he recalls. Garriott began talking to Washington officials to find out more.
The plain-language movement has been around for decades, said Don Byrne, executive director of the Center for Plain Language. The Maryland-based non-profit advocates the use of plain language in government, law, business and health care. In the federal government, it geared up when Vice President Al Gore led a plain-language initiative. A handful of states now have plain-language requirements.
The goals are simple: Make documents understandable on the first read. Make them useful and easy to scan for information through better design, headings and bullets. Use language geared for the intended audience. Avoid jargon.
Improving government communication, Byrne said, can save money and help people comply with laws. In Washington, state officials hired consultants to help them rewrite government correspondence and train thousands of state employees in the principles of plain talk. After Garriott approached them, officials there agreed to send two Washington state employees to Arizona to share plain talk concepts with Garriott's staff.
Since then, a team within the Arizona Department of Revenue has identified about 400 form letters it would like to redo. So far, it has completed rewrites on about 100 of them, working to simplify, organize, shorten and make sure that they say what they are supposed to say in a way that doesn't require an accountant's interpretation.
|Measure keeps it simple: No more jargon|
May 18, 2007
Now hear this, Oregonians: Your state government has banned gobbledygook.
May 16, 2007
It’s all over the news. The mortgage industry is a mess and too many of our neighbors are going into foreclosure. ABC2 News Investigator Tisha Thompson realized most folks don’t really understand what the heck everyone is talking about…literally.
After 34 years in the same house, Bill Jones is getting ready to move…
“It’s a lot of memories,” he says. “A lot of memories.” Against his will.
“Exactly when we got to go, I don’t know.”
After a two year legal battle, Jones is about to go into foreclosure. "What should have been an ordinary business transaction has turned into a nightmare.”
Jones says it all started when he tried to refinance his mortgage two years ago. “They promised me a 30 year conventional loan at a fixed rate,” he says.
But he ended up with an adjustable rate mortgage with an exploding interest rate. “I’ll be paying about twice what I was promised.”
Jones says he only figured this out after he deciphered all the words in his loan agreement…after he signed the documents.
We got hold of a basic contract for a traditional 30 year mortgage. Its one of the simplest contracts out there. But read a typical clause:
“'Lender may, at lender's option, without giving notice to or obtaining the consent of borrower, borrower's successors or assigns of or any junior lien holder or guarantors...”
After reading it three or four times, we still don't know what it means. So we brought it to the experts:
Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Thomas Perez, the man in charge of Maryland’s mortgage laws…
And Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) who says, "I call this lawyer talk."
Both are powerful lawyers and both men had to stew over the document before they could explain it us. "Basically what this saying is that the lender can extend the time you can you will have to make a payment,” Cummings says. “I would know that only because I'm a lawyer. The average person wouldn't have a clue."
Both agreed we become easy targets because most of us don’t know what the words in our loan agreements mean. "That is not fair and that is not legal,” Perez says. He believes the complicated language is the main reason why our ABC2 News Investigation found Maryland Latinos were three times more likely to end up with a high-risk loan than their white, non-Hispanic neighbors.
"I don't think I have limited English proficiency and I had a heck of a lot of trouble interpreting this,” Perez says. “I've met way too many people who did have limited English proficiency and it was precisely that language barrier that allowed them to be taken advantage of." But Perez admits he can’t make lenders use plain English in their documents. "At the moment I can't force the lender to do this."
He and Cummings are still encouraging lenders to use simple English in their contracts. "We need to simplify these documents as best we can," Cummings says.
But Bill Jones says it’s already too late for his Pimlico neighbors. "People have had to move after 30, 40, 50 years because they took out loans they didn't understand. I think it should be made simple where people can understand it. We're not trained mortgage bankers, finance agents, were just normal folk."
Full Story: www.abc2news.com/content/investigators/story.aspx?content_id=adbe76eb-becd-4cd3-8334-03ef47866aef
|'Reform in Law' awarded for first plain-language rewrite of federal civil court rules in 70 years|
May 10, 2007
The Burton Awards (www.burtonawards.com) has named the project to
clarify the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, used in federal trial
courts, as the winner of its 2007 "Reform in Law" award. The awards
program is run in association with the Library of Congress and the Law
Library of Congress, and the ceremony will be held at the Library of
Congress, in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2007.
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