On behalf of our activist community, I urge you to contact your representative and ask him or her to support the Readable Legislation Act, H.R. 5142, and the Searchable Legislation Act, H.R. 5143, both sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). Together, the bills would alter the format and publication of bills to make them significantly more understandable and accessible. The Readable Legislation Act would require the provisions of law being amended by the bill to be included in the language, and the Searchable Legislation Act would require bills to be published in searchable electronic formats as recommended by the Congressional Data Task Force.
Currently, most legislation is difficult to decipher and determine the impact of if one is not familiar with every statute of existing law, or does not dedicate the extensive time and effort needed to search each individual section of law amended by a proposed bill. For example, a section of the PROSPER Act, H.R. 4508, reads:
SEC. 503. GENERAL PROVISIONS.
Part C of title V (20 U.S.C. 1103 et seq.) is amended—
(1) in section 521(c)(7)—
(A) by striking subparagraph (C);
(B) by redesignating subparagraphs (D) and (E) as subparagraphs (C) and (D), respectively; and
(C) in subparagraph (D), as so redesignated, by striking “subparagraph (D)” and inserting “subparagraph (C)”;
(2) in section 522(b)—
(A) in the subsection heading, by inserting “; COMPLETION RATES” after “EXPENDITURES”;
(B) in paragraph (1), by inserting “or 502(a)(2)(C)” after “502(a)(2)(A)(ii)”; and
(C) in paragraph (2)—
(i) in the paragraph heading, by inserting “AND COMPLETION RATES” after “EXPENDITURES”;
(ii) in the matter preceding subparagraph (A), by inserting “or 502(a)(2)(C)” after “502(a)(2)(A)(ii)”; and
(iii) in subparagraph (A), by inserting “or section 502(a)(2)(C)” after “502(a)(2)(A)”
This text means little to nothing on its own, without context to understand what actual language and provisions of existing law are being changed. Simply requiring bills to show the changes that they make to the full text of existing law that they repeal or amend, as the Readable Legislation Act requires, would give sufficient context to understand what bills actually do.
Many state legislatures already draft their legislation this way, making their legislation immensely easier to read, understand, and engage on. If we value the transparency of our government and its accessibility to American citizens, this change is a necessity.
Building upon this, the Searchable Legislation Act would develop and implement recommendations on how every bill, resolution, and document Congress produces should be put in a searchable electronic format for creation, transmission, and publication. Currently, the PDF format largely used to draft and publish documents is static and difficult to search. The proposal to change these methods is another common sense step toward enhancing the accessibility and openness of the legislative process to the public.
According to Alexander B. Howard, the Deputy Director of the Sunlight Foundation, “The Readable Legislation Act and the Searchable Legislation Act would both make meaningful, tangible improvements to public access and understanding of the raw materials of democracy: bills before Congress. If enacted, this legislation would build upon a decade of progress opening the first branch of government to the people it serves.”
Transparency and accessibility are two hallmarks of American democracy, and it is essential to ensure, as these bills do, that the legislative process is not hidden from the people behind a wall of obscure text and outdated practices. For these reasons, I urge you to contact your representative and ask him or her to support the Readable Legislation Act, H.R. 5142 and the Searchable Legislation Act, H.R. 5143.