S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Feb. 27, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0227.billnames.htm

Creative use of language starting to be part of bills
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

FEB. 27, 2005 - - Authors of legislation in the General Assembly seem to be taking cues from national politicians when it comes to giving titles.

Instead of naming bills to describe what they do, some lawmakers seem to be trying to win arguments early by attaching names to legislation that sounds good - - even though the measures might not do exactly what is claimed.

The best example today is the so-called "Put Parents In Charge Act," an education reform measure that is a thinly-disguised school voucher program. The bill, which is being pushed hard by Gov. Mark Sanford and out-of-state interests, essentially calls for a $4,000 per year tuition tax credit to be given to parents who send their kids to private schools. "Putting Parents In Charge," essentially, means providing parents with a pile of cash that's steered from public education into private school coffers. Opponents to the measure say it's a structural way to undermine public education for the benefit of a few.

"Legislation by title and emotion - - that's all I see these days," said State Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter.

Use of language in bill titles to win arguments is clearly a part of federal lawmaking, as witnessed in a variety of bills, such as President George Bush's "Clean Skies Initiative," which makes clean air rules less restrictive. Now state lawmakers are catching up.

Progressive political linguist George Lakoff says using the other side's language to describe legislation is a smart way of politicking.

"This mollifies, even attracts, the people in the middle who might have qualms about you," Lakoff notes in his bestselling book, "Don't Think of an Elephant!"

"This is the use of Orwellian language - - language that means the opposite of what it says - - to appease people in the middle at the same time as you pump up the base."


McLEMORE'S WORLD: Computer incompatibility

FEEDBACK: Libertarianism gone wild

SCORECARD: Thumbs up/down and mixed reviews



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Use of language as a tool may not have reached the dire levels in South Carolina that it has in Washington, but here's a list of bills - - some by Republicans and some by Democrats - - before state lawmakers and what they really do:

  • The Economic Development, Citizens and Small Business Protection Act (S. 2, H. 3008) - - This is a measure to change the civil justice system to cap non-economic damages in civil lawsuits to $250,000. In other words, it's tort reform.

  • The Dairy Stabilization Act (S. 366, H. 3355) - - This bill calls for a S.C. Milk Board to set fair milk prices across the state to help its ailing dairy industry. One GOP critic says it's nothing but a socialist ploy.

  • The Landowner and Advertising Protection Act (S. 420, H. 3381) - - Known by critics as the Billboard Protection Act, the measure calls for municipalities to reimburse private property owners if communities remove billboards. The measure is framed as a property rights bill.

  • The Nurturing Responsible Families Initiative Act (H. 3021) - - This measure calls for the development of policies to reduce people's dependence on government benefits and calls for more involvement of fathers in families.

  • The Protect Our Women In Every Relationship, or POWER, Act (H. 3143) - - The bill is a fancy way of calling for tougher laws against domestic violence. What's interesting is not all domestic violence incidents are committed against women.

  • The Defense of Marriage Act (S. 45) - - While the proposal really says same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions won't be recognized in South Carolina, the title implies the very foundations of traditional marriage are shaking and quivering. Essentially, the bill is part of a conservative social agenda to irritate the gay community.

The list goes on, with the Right to Life Act, the Education and Economic Development Act and the Unborn Victims Act.

Bottom line: When you read or see a catchy name of a bill in the news, remember politicians are playing politics with language. Read the whole bill before you make up your mind.


2/27: Peeved pooch

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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2/22: GOP politico says Dems need to wake up

To the editor:

You are right on target. (Commentary, 2/20). At this point in the cycle, they should be engaged in the guerilla tactics that were successful in the run up to the '98 election. Day after day. At worst it would make them relevant. That's what I would advise if I were on their side.

-- SC GOP operative, name withheld upon request

2/22: Doesn't like "gotcha" cameras

To the editor:

The Republicans are at it again. Instead of instituting legitimate ways to garner revenue to improve our SC Highway system, they are proposing a government partnership with a private corporation to have GOTCHA CAMERAS placed at key Traffic Lighted intersections which would catch red-light runners on camera and sue them as appropriate. The total fee would be split with the private installer of the camera as that companies payment for parts and installation.

Statistics have shown that these GOTCHA CAMERAS actually cause more accidents than they prevent yet our elected officials are in the mood to move ahead with such legislation unless you, a voting South Carolinian tell em to JUST SAY NO. There are better ways to reduce this states abominable driver safety status and GOTCHA CAMERAS is not one of them...

-- Bob Logan, Little River, SC

2/21: Dem says party needs help

Your recent article (Commentary, 2/20) is right on the money. It's terrible what is going on with our party's communication.

-- SC Democratic Party operative, name withheld upon request


Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Sanford. Hats off to the governor for pushing to restore state trust funds raided in past budgets. Much of the funds were taken from areas that supported conservation.

House budget committee. Congrats to committee members for fully funding education at the per-pupil level for the first time since 2000. We hope, however, that it's not the good news before the bad news (which could happen if a school voucher proposal passes and, ultimately, takes away money from public schools.)

Thumbs down

Voucher proponents. They've introduced a weaker version to try to keep folks from jumping ship, but a bad idea is still a bad idea.

Hinson. Republican Rep. Shirley Hinson's introduction of a budget amendment to keep educators from communicating by email with their elected officials smacks of heavy-handed authoritarianism. If she can't take heat from constituents, she should get out of politics.

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