Idaho House approves bill to officialize English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Mar 21 12:58:28 UTC 2007

House approves bill to make English Idaho's official language

Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- The state House has approved a bill to designate
English as Idaho's official language, making it the latest state to
mandate that its business be conducted in English. The House vote was
46-20 Monday. Already OK'd by the state Senate, the measure now goes to
the governor. The bill spells out some exceptions for education, public
health and public safety. Critics argued the measure is divisive and
unnecessary, saying it would alienate immigrants who come to the United
States -- and Idaho -- but don't speak English.

Supporters countered that the bill would do exactly the opposite. Rather,
it will better draw non-English speakers into the community, while
clarifying when languages other than English can be used. For example,
some school officials may be unknowingly breaking state law by
communicating in languages other than English, because there is no
provision in state law to allow that, said Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg,
sponsor of the bill. The bill now allows provisions for schools to do so,
he said. "This is the opposite of an English-only bill," Raybould said.
"It is setting up a process by which languages other than English can be
used in the official business of our state."

Nearly all Idaho affairs are conducted in English in a state where the
population is 96 percent white. The measure offers nothing constructive
from a policy standpoint, said Rep. Les Bock, D-Boise. "It is a poke in
the eye of a group of people," he said. "You've got to set aside your
fears today. This is a body that should not legislate on the basis of
fear." Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said the bill encourages people to
learn English but offers no resources toward that end and removes money
for translating documents and other materials.

"I have a really hard time believing that this legislation is wholly to
allow for other languages," she said. But rather than divide Idahoans, the
bill unites them, said Rep. Thomas Loertscher, R-Iona. Loertscher
recounted 30 months he spent traveling through Germany when he was a young
man and having to fill out documents in German. The experience proved that
if residents of a country don't at least have a language in common, they
are in real trouble, he said. "Guess what? I never had to fill out a form
that was in English. It was all in German, the official language of
Germany," he said. "If I has asked for a form in English, I would have
been laughed at and told to leave the country, probably." Rep. Mack
Shirley, R-Rexburg, said he tried to look at the bill as a positive step.

"We should encourage all the people who live here to get all the benefits
of living here," he said. "And one of those is knowing English." According
to Boise State University's recent public policy survey, 70 percent of 513
people polled favor an English-only policy for the state.  In addition, in
Canyon County in southwestern Idaho, local government officials in July
passed a ban on issuing new reports, forms, brochures and signs in
languages other than English. The bill has been pushed with the help of
U.S. English, a Washington, D.C.-based group that's trying to get similar
laws in all U.S. states to "preserve the unifying role of the English
language in the United States,"  according to its Web site. At least 27
states have passed some form of official English laws.

"The one thing we do know, is that whatever the intent of the sponsors is,
the effect of it is that it will have an unwelcoming message to anybody
who is coming to Idaho," said Roger Sherman, program director for United
Vision for Idaho.


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