There was strong debate over the bill; it passed in the committee by a vote of 11 to 5.
It is important to note that this proposal doesn't mean people can't learn or speak other languages; it simply means the official business of state government would have to be conducted in the English language.
The bill proposes to prevent the taxpayers from having to pay for services such as driver's license tests in other languages. The argument is that if a person is unable to comprehend driver's license tests, he/she probably poses a safety concern because he/she will be challenged to understand street signs, instructions from English-speaking police, etc. The passage of this bill would also allow taxpayers to avoid the cost of publishing state documents in other languages, or providing services in multiple languages by using translators.
The issue became of added importance after a recent complaint was filed against the Department of Public Safety. The complaint was filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and alleges that the department did not offer a graphics driver's test to individuals whose native language was Farsi.
Approximately thirty other states have already taken similar steps to ensure that English is the official language.
Hopefully the passage of the bill will in some small way address the problem facing our society of the large number of people coming to the United States to access our prosperity, some of whom obviously having no intention of adapting to our culture or learning the English language.
Even though the bill purports to make exceptions for Native American languages, the bill is opposed by Native American groups. I think it is unfortunate, however, that the bill makes an exception for these languages, because I do not feel that the taxpayers should ever be saddled with paying for the cost associated with printing materials in any language other than English.
When Senate Bill 163 is sent to the full House, I will be sure to vote for it.
If the bill is approved by both the House and the Senate, the voters will have the final say on this issue, because it is a constitutional amendment. All constitutional amendments must be approved by the people; your opportunity to vote on the proposal would be in November of this year.
If you would like to provide your feedback on this matter, please feel free to visit www.housedistrict31.com and complete my 2008 Constituent Survey. I am asking House District 31 constituents to weigh in on this and a number of other issues. According to the most recent tally, 91% of respondents are in favor of making English our official language.