Summary of the question posed was; why are many of the bills that are sometimes detrimental to our community written in such complicated legal language, which makes it hard to decipher.
It wasn’t until I became a state legislator did I gain a new respect/understanding for lawyers and law school. The saying, “the devil is in the details” is definitely applicable.
Law is written is a coded language that most untrained eyes struggle to decipher.
When you are writing a bill/law it must be very specific and defined to do its job and hold up in court.
However, all legislators get a summary of each bill. They can also do the often required work to dig deeper and learn the effects of these bills and communicate that summary to their constituents. Legislators in both the House and Senate have not only the clerk but a legal office at their disposal to go line by line to learn how each ammendment/bill works.
They can, as I did bring in constituents like Alex Khaveci who wrote the “Check cashing bill” which if passed would limit what you can be charged. Or Jamarhl Crawford who has been working on legislation for the rights of fathers. Together you can write, or learn the legal language of the bill.
In my opinion, this is not done enough. Not only is it not done enough but like I stated without then communicating it to those you represent, those impacted, you are not doing enough in my opinion.
Now, that’s not necessarily easy but I’ll come back to that. There are other resources available. Your local NAACP chapter has a legal committee hopefully staffed with lawyers who volunteer to read critical bills that impact communities of color. If you or a legislator has a good working relationship that is another good Avenue.
The habitual offender bill aka “3 strikes bill” followed a course like this. Plenty of legalese. I and others had worries of its impact to the residents in our districts as well as tax payers across Massachusetts. I learned the bill. I met with law office and other legal experts including a member of Boston NAACP legal committee. When explained in laymens terms, I clearly saw what I considered dangerous and harmful flaws.
The next steps were to work with community leaders, advocates and residents to inform, educate and organize changes to the bill. And in my opinion even that wasn’t enough. There are 160 Reps and 40 Senators. Most of them did not come from nor represent communities like mine. So after informing like minded, like district colleagues, I organized an info session for my colleagues in the House with legislators from South Carolina and Texas I believe, who had been down this road of criminal justice reform, former wardens, Rashaan Hall (ACLU at the time), Stephanie Soriano Mills (NAACP at the time) and others who could speak to the real impact of the bill as it stood.
Changes were made. Not enough. I still voted against it but the changes that were made, made the bill much less harmful than it would’ve been had those steps not been taken.
It is the job of your representative to make the legalese easy for you. If they are not…I recommend you check your representation.
A footnote: not all legislators have a law background some were teachers, salesperson, organizers, etc. Legislators with legal backgrounds don’t necessarily make good either. They may be law and order or may not understand what it means or takes to do the job. But either way. The tools are there, the job is theirs to do. The community must decide if they’re happy with what they are getting.
Earlier I said it wasn’t easy. As a Rep, I had one paid staff person full time. Interns were a bonus that you had to get and manage on your own if you saw fit. How you create capacity in your office, through colleagues, caucuses and community isn’t easy but in my opinion possible and a must. Or you’re just not reppin it right.