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Three States Consider Making English Official Language

State House New Jersey
State House New Jersey / Wikimedia Commons
• September 16, 2014 11:20 am

Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey are considering legislation this year to make English their official language.

A hearing is scheduled in early October on Pennsylvania’s bill, HB 2132, which was introduced in March of this year. If passed, it would not only require English to be the official language, but all official acts of government, including tax records, wills, court documents, licenses, and deeds, would be in English.

"It is the purpose of this act to preserve, protect, and strengthen the unifying role of English as the official language of this Commonwealth," the bill states. "This act shall not be construed in any way to infringe on the rights of citizens, who have every right to choose their own primary language, in the use of language for private conduct, nor shall this act be used to dictate language policies for the operation and administration of organizations or businesses in the unregulated private sector."

The costs of printing in other languages were also cited in Pennsylvania’s bill. "Government has a fiduciary responsibility to the citizenry to ensure that it operates as efficiently as possible, and the growth of multiple language bureaucracies and printing represents an abrogation of this fiduciary responsibility," the bill states.

New York’s bill, the "New York State English Language Empowerment Act," was referred to the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations Committee. Last year’s bill was also referred to the same committee and no action was taken. The bill was also introduced in two previous legislative sessions.

New Jersey’s bill was reintroduced in January and referred to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, & Historic Preservation Committee. A similar bill languished in the same committee in the 2012-13 session.

"The motivation behind the bill is to encourage those who do not speak English, or speak it at a limited level, to fully learn the language. Data from the Census Bureau tells us that those who struggle to speak English experience the highest unemployment and lowest wages," said Sen. Anthony Bucco, (R.), one of the sponsors of the current New Jersey bill.

The bill would not end any services or information the state provides in other languages, according to Bucco.

It is now up to the chair of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, & Historic Preservation Committee, Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan, to make the decision on whether to move the New Jersey bill.

Whelan did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.

A letter Bucco also sent to Whelan four months ago requesting the bill be heard in committee also went unanswered.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that 83 percent of Americans support having English as official language of the country.

The ultimate goal of the nonpartisan group U.S. English Inc. is to get Congress to declare English as the official language of the U.S. government and promote a comprehensive national language policy with English as the official language.

The group has succeeded in helping 31 states recognizing English as the official language, according to an email statement by U.S. English Chairman Mauro E. Mujica.

"We are currently working in the remaining 19. So far this year, U.S. English has worked with representatives in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to introduce bills that would declare English the official language, and we continue to work daily on getting these bills the attention they need to move through committees and to ultimate passage," Mujica said.

"We anticipate a hearing in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks, and while the Michigan and West Virginia bills have missed their window for passage this year, we are already assisting in planning for the re-introduction of these bills next year," said Mujica.

Mujica, an immigrant himself, outlined the troubles those who do not learn English face.

"Unfortunately, without English proficiency, immigrants are often linguistically isolated—facing a lower paying job, less likely to have health insurance and other benefits, and encountering language barriers on a daily basis," Mujica said.