Arizona House OKs bill on state language
Francis M. Hult
fmhult at dolphin.upenn.edu
Sat Mar 25 00:31:17 UTC 2006
House OKs bill on state language
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
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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