Oklahoma: State senator wants to officialize English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sat Jan 6 20:54:59 UTC 2007

State senator looks to make English official language of government

By Carolyn Cole/Staff Writer

A bill making English Oklahoma's official language would likely be
challenged by minority rights groups in court if it clears the
Legislature, hispanic advocates say. State Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson filed
Senate Bill 38, which would designate English as the official language of
Oklahoma government. If approved, it would mandate that no government
agency, including state, county and local offices, could be required to
provide services or forms in any language other than English. However,
Wilcoxson, who represents eastern Canadian County neighborhoods, said her
bill wouldn't prohibit any agency from making information or services
available in other languages. It's a statement, its not going to change
much of anything we want to make sure even in our diversity we are
unified, and we know language is the major unification portion of any
nation, she said.

However leaders of several Hispanic advocacy groups are worried the bill
would be divisive and would hamper non-English speakers ability to
communicate with the government. Sebastian Lantos, a member of the
Governors Advisory Council on Latin American and Hispanic Affairs, said he
has no problem with encouraging English, but hes concerned Wilcoxsons bill
and other similar legislation, which have been approved in other states,
could lead to the violation of non-English speakers civil rights. In this
time and age, we need to think about integrating people and educating
people and not isolating people any further, he said. According to U.S.
Census data, a language other than English is spoken in 7.4 percent of
Oklahoma homes, compared to 17.9 percent nationwide. Among Oklahomans, 6.3
percent of the states population is Hispanic and 1.5 percent is Asian,
compared to 14.1 percent and 4.2 percent nationwide.

Wilcoxson said federal law which requires states to offer ballots in other
languages, wouldnt be affected by her proposed legislation, nor would it
change an existing state law requiring driver license exams be offered in
Spanish. She said shes heard concerns from constituents that Spanish
receives special consideration from the government, because more forms and
information are available in the language than others. Ive had Vietnamese
call me and say is Spanish more important than Vietnamese, she said.
Statistics show more than 120 different languages are spoken by Oklahoma
residents, and Wilcoxson said it would be difficult for all agencies to
accommodate all speakers in their native tongues. We are teaching English,
she said. It will behoove people to be a part of our government and our
state to learn English.

If the Legislature considers the bill when it convenes in February, it
wont be the first time an English-only measure has received Oklahomas
attention. Most recently, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a similar
petition unconstitutional in 2002, because it would have banned state
funding from being spent on translating documents or providing services in
other languages. James Thomas, a University of Tulsa law professor, helped
fight the 2002 petition. He said he believes if the bill passes, it will
likely face an uphill battle in the courts. That decision by the Supreme
Court in the initiative petition, it was so strong my first inclination is
that the legislation would always raise a constitutional question, he
said, adding the ruling said the petition would limit free speech. Another
problem with the current shell bill, Thomas said, is its vagueness it
leaves the decision to print materials or provide information in other
languages up to each agencys discretion.

In my own mind, I find it pretty chilling if legislation or a petition put
any restrictions at all, regardless of how its worded, that might cut down
communications with people who might not have the skill of English, Thomas
said. Although Wilcoxson said the bill had little to do with illegal
immigration within Oklahoma, David Puente, League of United Latin American
Citizens Oklahoma City Council president, said hes worried this could be
the first of many anti-immigrant bills to surface this session. If so, he
said his organization and others are prepared to rally on the Capitol
steps like last spring, which drew an estimated 20,000 people. We are good
for this state, and we are not trying to hurt nobody or take anything from
anybody, he said. If Wilcoxsons bill is approved, Oklahoma will join 28
other states which have adopted similar legislation, including its
neighbors Missouri, Colorado, Arkansas and Louisiana.

There is also a proposal being considered by Congress. Lantos said in many
of the states which have approved similar laws, government officials cited
data on the cost of translating documents and providing interpreters. He
said immigrants, even those in America illegally, are taxpayers trying to
sweat out a better life for their families mostly doing manual labor.
There is nothing wrong if they contribute, he said. Lantos compared the
controversy to other civil rights movements, for blacks and those with
disabilities and predicted the United States is headed toward a major
policy change related to the way it views and treats immigrants. We need
to think forward it makes me want to jump into politics, he said.



N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list