Salt Lake Tribune

Wednesday, January 13, 1999

English Only Bill Still on Track, Rowan Insists
By SHAWN FOSTER, The Salt Lake Tribune

Rep. Tammy Rowan, sponsor of Utah's official-English legislation, says the U.S. Supreme Court decision that killed Arizona's English-only measure will not affect her bill. On Monday, the high court voted unanimously to leave intact an Arizona Supreme Court decision that struck down that state's restrictive English-only constitutional amendment.
    Rowan, R-Orem, says her bill is much different from the Arizona amendment.
    ``[The Arizona measure] was very restrictive. It was interpreted to cover any time a government employee did anything in another language,'' Rowan says. ``If a friend called an employee and they spoke in a foreign language, [the employee] could be sued.''
    Rowan says her bill makes it clear that government employees have the constitutional right to speak in any language they please. For example, the proposed legislation would allow a state employee who speaks Spanish to help a Spanish-speaking client.
    ``The point of the bill is that as a non-English-speaking person you could never go into a state agency and automatically assume there would be an interpreter for you,'' Rowan says. ``If [Arizona's amendment] would have covered a few more exemptions, it might have been constitutional.''
    Restrictions vary among the 25 states with English-only laws. Most are symbolic declarations.
    Rowan's bill would make English Utah's official language and, with a few exceptions, would prohibit state agencies from conducting government business or printing information in any language but English.
    Arizona's law went much further, demanding that state employees conduct all their business in English.
    But the legal question in the Arizona case was whether forcing state employees to communicate only in English violates their rights to free speech.
    Maria Kelley Yniguez, a bilingual state employee in Phoenix, believed it did. Yniguez and Jaime Gutierrez, an Arizona state senator, filed a lawsuit in 1988 to block the law.
    In a unanimous decision, the state court agreed with Yniguez and Gutierrez. Later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.
    U.S. English, a group that promotes official-English measures, supported the Arizona measure and Rowan's bill. But the difference, says U.S. English spokesman Eric Stone, is that English-only advocates have learned how to do a better job crafting legislation.
    ``There was a group of citizens in Arizona that asked U.S. English for help in funding the initiative,'' Stone says. ``But since that time, we've learned a lot about how to draft official-English legislation by using more specific language.''
    Rowan's bill -- which received approval in a citizens petition initiative that allows the measure to skip the committee hearing process and go straight to the House floor -- could be debated as soon as next week when the state Legislature convenes.
    And opponents of Rowan's bill say they are ready for the legislative battle.
    ``You can have interpretations in several directions on the Supreme Court decision,'' says Jim Gonzales, a Salt Lake City Latino activist and opponent of the English-only movement. ``But there are Republicans in the Legislature who are looking for a reason not to pass this, and the Supreme Court decision is a good one