Arizona House OKs bill on state language

Francis M. Hult fmhult at
Sat Mar 25 00:31:17 UTC 2006

House OKs bill on state language

Matthew Benson 
The Arizona Republic 
Mar. 24, 2006 12:00 AM 

Call it Official English 2.0.

Arizonans likely will have a chance with the November ballot to make English 
the state's official language.


In 1988, the state was among the first to declare English the state language. 
But the Arizona Supreme Court later declared that measure unconstitutional 
because of First Amendment concerns.

Advocates now are back for another try, pitching another version. House 
Concurrent Resolution 2036, they say, is a kinder, gentler way to 
encourage "civic virtues" - namely, the use of English. The House approved the 
measure Thursday and supporters expect the Senate to do likewise, sending it 
to the ballot.

"We have 329 languages spoken in the United States. We think that's good," 
said Tim Schultz, director of government relations for U.S. English, a 
Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. "We also think if you don't have a 
language in common, that's bad."

But critics leaped on the proposal as a do-nothing attempt to capitalize on 
anti-immigrant sentiment in this state.

"Who is benefiting from this law?" asked Elias Bermudez, who leads a local 
radio talk show on Latino issues and is president of Immigrants Without 
Borders. "This is a deliberate attempt by some of our legislators to unwelcome 
the Latino community. It creates the atmosphere of animosity and antagonism."

The effort to declare English the state's official language comes as Arizona 
lawmakers wrangle over government funding to teach English to students 
struggling to learn it. A federal judge recently ordered that $21 million in 
fines he has levied against the state be put into its English-learner programs.

Thursday's debate on official English was an extension of the education 
dispute and the greater clash over immigration policy in this state. 

It was highly partisan, in other words. Short-tempered. And likely will lead 
to further conflicts.

The House endorsed the English measure by a 34-22 vote, with just two 
Republicans in opposition. No Democrats supported the proposal.

Several Democrats noted the irony of the GOP supporting official English but 
being resistant of sufficient state funding to teach students English. House 
Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, found it equally ironic that Democrats who 
argue for the importance of teaching students English would fight an effort to 
make it the state's official language.

"This kind of proposal is only driven by paranoia," Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-
Phoenix, argued before fellow lawmakers. "You are cutting off a significant 
part of our population and telling them they're something other than 

Not so, said Rep. Marian McClure, R-Tucson: "This is not a racist position. 
The American way of life includes learning the language."

If voters endorse the proposal, Schultz said, immediate changes would be 
difficult to spot: Government services would remain for non-English speakers, 
translators would stay where necessary, Spanish wouldn't be barred from state 
offices. A host of exemptions prevent the resolution from intruding on a host 
of matters, such as court proceedings and informal communications between 
government workers.

But the measure is more than symbolic. 

It mandates that government services, programs and publications be provided in 
English "to the greatest extent possible." All official government actions 
would be taken in English.

U.S. English has helped shepherd similar official-English efforts in the last 
decade in Wyoming, Utah and five other states. 

Twenty-seven states have declared English their official language. 

And Schultz spoke confidently of the measure's chances in Arizona, noting that 
69 percent of Arizonans supported an English declaration in a January 2005 
poll by Arizona State University and KAET-TV/Channel 8.

"Look, if this is on the ballot, it's going to pass. No doubt about it," 
Schultz said. "OfficialEnglish has never lost on the ballot in any state."

But the Latino community is fast-growing and already represents more than a 
quarter of Arizona. So Bermudez spoke of another inevitability.

"The time has come where Spanish will be a second language in this country," 
he said, "whether people like it or not."

Reach the reporter at matt.benson at arizonarepublic .com or (602) 444-4947.

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