Alabama tries again...

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 29 19:21:36 UTC 2005

>>From USA Today, 12/29/05

Ala. could join states that require drivers know English
By Mike Linn, USA TODAY

MONTGOMERY, Ala.  A state judge could rule soon on whether Alabama must
give driver's license exams only in English or can test potential
motorists in 12 other languages as it has since 1998. A long-running legal
battle pits English-only advocates here against the state and civil rights
groups. The driver's license issue, which states have grappled with for
decades, is part of a debate over immigration that has reached Congress
and state legislatures.

Six states still require residents to take the written exams in English,
says K.C. McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish, an Arlington,
Va.-based organization that supports laws or constitutional amendments
declaring English the USA's official language. It also defends the rights
of states to make English the official language of government operations.
"If somebody has come to this country knowing that English is the national
language spoken here, they should expect ... to take the driver's license
exam in that language," McAlpin says. He says drivers who can't read road
signs in English endanger themselves and other motorists.

States began multilanguage driver's license exams in the 1960s and 1970s,
mainly for Spanish-speaking families, McAlpin says. In the past decade,
however, many states have increased the number of languages exams can be
taken in, says Melissa Savage, a transportation policy expert with the
National Conference of State Legislatures. "There are many different
cultural groups here now in different communities, and you're not just
talking about Spanish-speaking people,"  she says.

She says she recognizes McAlpin's argument about safety but adds: "If they
don't have time to learn English, then they won't have a license, and that
could lead to unlicensed driving, which is probably a more significant
safety problem than not knowing road signs." Eleven states allow
undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.  Congress is
requiring states to stop the practice by May 2008, she says. Alabama
voters in 1990 approved a state constitutional amendment making English
the official language. The state then stopped giving driver's exams in
many languages.

In 1996, however, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil
Liberties Union sued the state on behalf of non-English-speaking
residents. The civil rights groups won a series of decisions in federal
courts. The state won the case before the Supreme Court but decided to
offer driver's license exams in many languages. Five Alabama residents who
are members of ProEnglish sued the state this year to overturn the
practice. Charles Campbell, state assistant attorney general, said last
month that English is the state's "official" language, not the "only"

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