Kansas: Hearing on state's official language bill set next week

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Jan 25 12:37:36 UTC 2007

Hearing on state's official language bill set next week

By Sarah Kessinger, Harris News Service
kessinger at dailynews.net

TOPEKA - Kansas State University student Sammy Ornelas grew up in
southwest Kansas where his immigrant parents encouraged his education - in
English. So did Jose Uriel-Estrada, who graduated high school in Liberal
and headed to K-State a few years ago. The two young men,
second-generation Americans who speak perfect English, joined several
other students at the Statehouse Tuesday asking lawmakers to educate
themselves on the reality of immigrants' experience before voting on a
bill that would make English the state's official language. "You try
walking in their shoes for a while," said Uriel-Estrada. "It's hard to
learn a new language when you're working full time at Seaboard (hog farms)
or National Beef or roofing."

He was referring to two bills introduced by House Republicans that would
place limits on the use of foreign languages by state and local
governments in Kansas. "I think the Legislature has to realize that
learning a language won't happen overnight," said Sister Esther Pineda
from the Justice and Peace Center in Salina. "Our immigrant neighbors,
more than anyone else, know they need to learn English." House Homeland
Security Chairman Don Myers, R-Derby, plans to hold a hearing next week on
his official English bill, which he said promotes acquisition of English.
"It has to do with parents who do not encourage children at a young age to
learn the common language of the state," Myers said.

"That's a barrier to good jobs." A similar bill, introduced in House
Federal and State Affairs Committee, would also bar state agencies or
political or taxing entities from issuing written materials in any
language other than English. That bill, unlike Myers' version, requires
state agencies to also tabulate their costs for translating any documents
into another language. Both bills have exceptions, allowing for use of
foreign languages for public health and safety as well as court
proceedings and for teaching people to learn English, as well as to
promote international commerce. The bill also exempts common non-English

The measure allows state residents to sue a governmental agency in court
if they think the laws been violated. In some other states, however, the
laws themselves have become the subject of court action, said Melinda
Lewis, policy director at El Centro, a community development center in
Kansas City. In Alaska and Arizona, courts have invalidated official
English statutes, Lewis said, for violating equal protection and free
speech. Several other states have had various official language laws on
the books for several years. Rep. Pat George, R-Dodge City, comes from a
largely immigrant district and said he's interested in learning more about
the bills.

"I'm trying to figure out if it really does anything," he said. "I want to
make sure it's not discriminatory." Lewis said such policies in other
states have not prompted people to learn English any faster. And some
states are taking an alternative approach, she said, by passing an
"English-plus" resolution. The action "affirms the overwhelming importance
of English while encouraging mastery of multiple languages," Lewis said,
"in order to best position residents to participate in a global economy
where bilingualism is increasingly viewed as a key competitive advantage."

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said the issue
hadn't been raised in the Senate so far this year. "If they gain momentum
in the House, I'm sure we'll consider them,"  Schmidt said. "But with or
without passing a bill, English is and will remain the language of



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