English as the official language?

The legislative session brings with it the filing of some bills that are dead on arrival, that its sponsors know are dead on arrival, but are filed anyway to at least make a point, and ignite a conversation.

HF2652, filed today by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Greenfield Township, may be one such bill, if history is any indicator. It designates English as the official language of Minnesota, whose state motto is “L’etoile du Nord.”

A similar bill, HF241, was filed last year. It was sent to a committee to die; the same committee to which Drazkowski’s bill has been sent.

Under Drazkowski’s bill, only a person who speaks English can take advantage of “programs, benefits, or opportunities,” including government employment. And nobody under 18 could get a driver’s license who doesn’t speak English. Drazkowski says his bill would not eliminate any constitutional guarantees afforded those who don’t speak English, and grants certain exceptions.

In a column in the Winona Daily News, Drazkowski cited the court costs associated with providing translators as one reason for his bill. “It’s almost become second nature that Minnesotans will recondition state services to people in their native language,” Drazkowski said. “This is fine for those who are here legally and willing to learn our language over time and become productive members of society. It’s not OK if we are spending millions for this service each year for the benefit of those who enter this country illegally or refuse to learn the English language.”

Drazkowski told me today the health care industry is another area where the cost of providing translators is increasing.

Similar bills have been filed this year in other states, including Oklahoma and Rhode Island. Nearly two dozen already have passed it, including Georgia, which has had the law for 12 years. That state is now considering whether to add the driver’s license provisions contained in Drazkowski’s bill. It’s a move that made the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s editorial board cringe:

Pressed to explain the rationale for this amendment, Bearden said drivers with clumsy English pose a problem for traffic cops. But surely poor English skills aren’t anywhere near the danger to police and the public that drunken driving is, and yet there’s no legislative demand for tougher DUI laws.

Language fluency is not critical to safe driving. Thousands of Georgians vacation abroad each year and drive through France, Spain, Greece and Germany. They can do so without knowing the languages because most countries agreed to standardize the road signs and markings in 1968.

Among the exceptions in Drazkowski’s bill, is the permission to “create or promote state or agency mottos,” such as L’etoile du Nord.

  • Nancy G

    “And nobody under 18 could get a driver’s license who doesn’t speak English.”

    This is my favorite sentence from this story.

    My driver’s license does not speak.

    Good thing I’m over 18!

    And he says, quoting Bearden, “drivers with clumsy English pose a problem for traffic cops.”

    Well, don’t we all have problems with clumsy English, occasionally?

    From Mr. Tilton’s student

    (Storden High School)

  • Bob Collins

    Argh. I’m going to turn in my driver’s license today. Since the DFL wants me to pay a sales tax increase for “transit,” maybe I can finally get a bus at a reasonable hour out of Woodbury. :*( I’m sure they’re thinking of the East Metro when they say ‘transit.”

  • Carrie

    If they can vote and get a job, they should be able to have a driver’s license. His bill is dependent on the fact that people are illegal and unwilling to learn English FOR court translator costs and state services. “Illegals” aren’t going there!!

    I wonder how big this problem is around Greenfield Township?

  • Im sorry, I didnt realize Drazowski was an Anglo name. I wonder how many generations ago his family came the the states and didnt speak any english?

    The point: The United States of America is a country founded by immigrants… people tend to forget that.

  • John A

    You wouldn’t move to Mexico, Russia, China, Italy or Nigeria and expect them to provide everything to you in English would you? NO, you wouldn’t! (With the exception of Nigeria, whose official language is English! English was chosen to facilitate the cultural and linguistic unity of the country.) When you go to another country for travel, if you don’t know the language, you ask, what’s so hard about that. Then through everyday conversing/asking, etc.. You pick up the language and are able to communicate with the natives.

    I believe immigration, when a country is young, focuses on quantity, not quality. Now that we’re established, we get to focus on quality. Otherwise, what’s to stop every gov’t in the world from shipping us all their homeless people?

    As far a driver’s licenses are concerned: Unless someone is reading the Driver’s License Manual to the licensee, then how else are they supposed to know what the rules and regulations are? (Unless of course we’ve spent money to translate it…)

    Think of all the money spent on translating documents, signage, etc… Is there really a good reason there needs to be one document in six (6) different languages (MN Voter Registration Application)? I don’t think so.

    As far as being able to vote, you should have to be a citizen to vote, and in order to become a citizen, you need to be able to “read, write and speak English” , so… what’s the big deal?

    I for one am tired of spending money on this kind of stuff. They get more services than I do. Why should we pay for things like ESL (English as a second language)? No one is offering to teach my kid Chinese as a second language for free. No one is giving my child special consideration to early childhood and full day kindergarten, why should they, just because they cannot speak the language? If Mommy & Daddy would make an attempt to speak English at home, then perhaps the child would learn it!

    Make English the official language, stop wasting my hard earned money and get over it. I mean, come on… when will it end? When every known language is acceptable and instead of two prompts on the telephone (1 for English, 2 for Spanish) we have options 1-xxx?

  • Mary

    haha Al! I thought the same thing!

    {I’m sorry, I didnt realize Drazowski was an Anglo name. I wonder how many generations ago his family came the the states and didnt speak any english?

    The point: The United States of America is a country founded by immigrants… people tend to forget that.}

    Which I agree with; that is why John, people don’t “move to Mexico, Russia, China, Italy or Nigeria and expect them to provide everything to you in English”…

    because as far as I know, those named countries were not founded on immigrants and a chance for new opportunities as the United States was.

    It makes me sad that children of immigrants forget that their ancestors came here and most likely didn’t know a lick of english. Its ridiculous to place harsh regulations on language, because if we treated immigrants like that 100 years ago, a lot of the people complaining about this wouldn’t even have been born! Have some compassion, geez!

  • Dean

    Yes Drazowski is not an Anglo name, but please note that his bill is written in ENGLISH, proving that his ancestors came to this country and integrated into the culture here by learning English, and to the person who said that illegals don’t use Family Services, maybe you should stop out there some time and see for yourself. OK, now for the comments about other countries, if people didn’t immigrate to those countries, where did they come from? At some point EVERYONE’S ancestors immigrated somewhere, whereupon, they learned the local language so they could communicate.

    Press one for English or hang up and call back when you learn it.

  • Kim

    {Think of all the money spent on translating documents, signage, etc… Is there really a good reason there needs to be one document in six (6) different languages? I don’t think so.}

    While I see the point you are trying to make with this statement, I must still disagree. There is much to be gained by supporting and taking part in the movement for multilingualism. Every culture looks at the world differently, so why should we say that one way of describing the world is inferior to another?

    Even if you were going to institute an official language why must it be English? More people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese than English, so Mandarin would establish us as more of a world power, would it not?

    Also, in response to the statement: { Why should we pay for things like ESL (English as a second language)?} You suggest we make it illegal to use any language but English for our everyday dealings, and yet you would deny those people who don’t speak English any opportunity to learn? I personally speak three languages and have attempted a fourth. I can tell you that learning a language without formal instruction is much harder than if you have someone to teach you basic things (like saying “What is that?” or “How do you say this?”)

    Furthermore, there were more than 700 languages spoken in what is now the United States before European annexation. While some people decided to learn the language of their area, the majority made the decision to continue using their native language instead (English). Why do we expect others to do what we could not?

    The US is one of few countries to remain monolingual. In North America, we are the only one. Why can’t we catch up with the rest of the world and expand our vocabularies?

  • J

    Live in an english speaking country, speak english! The laws of this country are written in english and the constitution is written in english, how do expect somebody to have respect and pride for the country they live in if they cannot even read and understand its history…I think this is a great bill, and I hope they pass it………