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.