Say What You Mean, and Mean What You Say

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.Mark Twain

Here at the CBF, we might not agree with Mr. Twain that there are no new ideas. Innovation is key to the CBF’s mission, after all. Sometimes though, an old idea can be given new life as he so poetically describes. A great example of this is last year’s Illinois Plain Language Task Force legislation.

In 2010, the federal government passed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which directed the federal government to communicate with the public using plain language and implemented extensive guidelines defining plain language. The CBF, long a proponent of plain language in our courts and legal system, thought that Illinois could use some similar guiding principles.

As we know, plain language increases the public’s understanding of rights and benefits as well as compliance with responsibilities and requirements. Clear communication leads to the successful and efficient achievement of legislative and administrative goals and also promotes the rule of law, making it an essential piece of the access to justice puzzle.

In researching how to implement a plain language guidance law in Illinois, it turned out that in 2009, a Plain Language Task Force had already been created by statute. Unfortunately, as is the case with many a task force, it appeared that it hadn’t quite gotten off the ground. The CBF seized the opportunity to utilize this existing framework and thus, SB3139 was born.

The legislation, sponsored by Senator Jacqueline Collins and Representative Laura Fine, updated, renewed, and reinvigorated the state’s commitment to plain language by restarting the Task Force and providing guidance to assist all three branches of Illinois government in their commitment to clear communications with the public. The Task Force is charged with implementing, monitoring, and reporting back on Illinois’ plain language efforts.

The General Assembly agreed with the importance of making the government more user-friendly and accessible for all Illinoisans, and SB3139 passed unanimously in the House and by a wide margin in the Senate. The bill was recently signed into law by the Governor (PA 100-1108) and the courts are already off and running with a parallel initiative, implementing a new Plain Language Policy.

We look forward to working with the Governor’s office and the legislature to get the Plain Language Task Force off the ground in the coming months. Illinois has seized the opportunity to be on the forefront of establishing a system of government that is transparent, encourages public participation and collaboration, and helps everyday people navigating the justice system. The CBF is proud to have worked with our partners to take these old ideas and give them new life for years to come.