English Only Update EXTRA

              HOUSE PASSES

              By Cassandra Burrell

              Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) Almost all federal government business would have to be conducted in English under a GOP bill the House passed 259-169 Thursday after emotional debate. It would mean an end to such services as Spanish-language tax instructions.

During a rare appearance as a debate participant, House Speaker Newt Gingrich said English is the tie that binds the country together, and mastery of the language is critical for immigrants who expect to do well.

"Our greatness in part comes from our ability to be a melting pot," Gingrich said. "While I cherish every person who comes from anywhere who comes here legally and seeks to pursue happiness. ... I want them to become American, and part of becoming American involves English."

Democrats denounced the bill as divisive, anti-immigrant and disrespectful of minorities.

Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., drew Democratic applause after suggesting that the bill be amended to bar presidential candidates from using the federal campaign funds to advertise in Spanish. His idea was voted down 257-171.

The Clinton administration threatened a veto. "This highly objectionable bill is unnecessary, inefficient and divisive," said a statement released by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Under the bill, the federal government would have to print most of its documents in English. No longer would the Internal Revenue Service print tax information in Spanish, for example.

Citizenship ceremonies would have to be conducted in English, but government employees and officials would not be barred from speaking with a person in foreign language.

The bill makes exceptions for agencies involved in international relations, trade, the census and national security. Agencies also would be allowed to communicate in other languages during emergencies that threaten the public health or safety.

The bill also would kill part of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that ballots be printed in foreign languages in areas with large numbers of people whose native language is other than English. It would not prohibit state or local officials from using foreign languages.

Citizens injured by an agency's failure to follow the law would have the right to file civil lawsuits.

Supporters said the bill was needed because the federal government shouldn't have to print documents in all of around 320 languages residents speak.

Some also expressed fear that language difficulties reported in bilingual nations such as Canada would erode U.S. unity.

Gingrich noted that public schools routinely provide instruction in dozens of languages in parts of the United States that are home to pockets of immigrants of a specific nationality.

"This is a level of confusion, which, if it was allowed to develop for another 20 or 30 years, would literally lead, I think, to the decay of the core parts of our civilization," Gingrich said.

Democrats spoke passionately against the bill. They said it would keep hard-working, tax-paying, patriotic Americans from getting information they need from the federal government only because they're unable to speak English fluently. Democrat speakers also called the bill a slap in the face for thousands of immigrants who can't enrol in overcrowded English-language classes.

"My colleagues characterize this bill as common-sense legislation," said Rep. William Clay, D-Mo. "It is neither common sense nor common decency to mandate exclusive use of English while utterly failing to address the practical need for English-language preparation."

"This is mean-spirited. I don't care how you camouflage it," said Rep. E. "Kika" de la Garza, D-Texas. "This bill is making us the laughing stock of the world. ... It's ridiculous. It's absurd."

"And since we're legislating an official language, how about an official religion to go along with it?" Rep. Thomas Foglietta, D-Pa., said sarcastically.

"Come to think of it, why don't we just get rid of the First Amendment altogether?"

The bill is H.R. 123.

Copyright 1996. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.