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
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