By JASON ROSENBAUM of the Tribune’s staff
Published Sunday, January 7, 2007
JEFFERSON CITY – Republican lawmakers are pushing forward with legislation that would make English the state’s official language of proceedings, a move supporters say would ease the state’s need to translate documents and halt the “Balkanization” of American culture.
House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, came out in support of such a move during his speech on the opening day of the General Assembly.
“English is the one thing that brings all Americans together,” Jetton said.
“Having all our citizens learn English will not only help our newest citizens fit in, but it will make our whole state more competitive in the world. This is the year we should pass this bill.”
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, said the move would ensure that Missouri does not slip into linguistic conflicts such as in Canada and the Balkans.
“This is not a multi-language culture; it’s a predominantly English culture,” Nodler said.
More specifically, Nodler said the move would prevent state agencies from having to translate documents. Written driver’s tests, for example, are offered in 11 different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese.
Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is the agency in charge of administering the tests, said commercial driver’s license tests are offered only in English and Spanish.
Asked whether the state would have to cease giving tests in other languages if the bill is passed, Hotz said, “That would be something that obviously would have to be determined later on.”
Nodler said the bill could save the state from a number of legal liabilities.
“Given the litigious nature of America, you don’t have to be too imaginative to envision a situation where somebody eventually files a suit because their arrest they suffered was invalid because the arresting officer didn’t speak to them in a language that they could understand,” Nodler said. “Without an official language, I guess you could claim that.”
Hotz said the highway patrol was “probably” taken to court for not announcing someone’s rights in another language. But he said the patrol is making an effort to prevent miscommunication.
“We do have translation services available,” Hotz said. “We’ve also had officers who’ve received training in Spanish and some of them that are fluent in Spanish.”
Hotz said he didn’t know whether translation services would be disallowed under the proposed law.
“But we’re going to have people traveling the highways, I’m sure, who speak all types of different languages,” Hotz said.
“We’re going to have to continue to try and communicate with those folks. I don’t think that we’re going to stop what we’re doing in that aspect,” he said.
State Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, panned Nodler’s bill as “unnecessary.”
“We have people from a variety of countries,” Graham said. “We print things to make it easier for them to be active, participant citizens. The country’s becoming increasingly bilingual, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.”
Graham added it didn’t make much of a difference whether the bill was passed in the legislature or taken to the voters, an option preferred by Nodler.
Nodler disagreed with Graham’s assessment that a multilingual society is beneficial for the nation’s cultural health.
“I reject the suggestion that America can no longer be the melting pot, that it, in fact, has to become a boiling pot of conflicting cultures,” Nodler said.