Measure keeping official Arizona communications in English advances - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Measure keeping official Arizona communications in English advances

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Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 8:17 pm | Updated: 11:32 pm, Sat Mar 19, 2011.

State senators voted Monday to put a roadblock in the path of state officials who want to talk to customers and constituents in their native languages.

SCR 1035 preserves the essence of a 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment which requires all official actions of the state to be conducted only in English. And it continues an existing exception which permits public workers to have "unofficial'' talks with people in other languages.

But the measure would forbid those conversations unless the other person requests to talk in another language for that specific conversation. And it would spell out that such a request "does not create a duty on the government to use the language requested.''

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said he's not trying to be punitive. He also said it's not aimed at any particular group.

Instead, Shooter said he is trying to underline that English is the unifying language of the country.

"It's language,'' he said. "It's our common bond.''

Nor, he said, it is aimed at use of Spanish.

"If an Italian came in the office you wouldn't expect the state of Arizona to issue a response in Italian, nor in German or Swahili or Russian or any other thing,'' he said.

"So it's not what people are making it out to be,'' Shooter continued. "It's just saying that if you come here, you need to work with us and be part of our culture, too.''

But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said he believes the new provision is illegal.

"You cannot put in stumbling blocks ... between the constituents and taxpayers and elected officials,'' he said.

Gallardo noted that the Arizona Supreme Court voided the first attempt by voters in 1988 to declare English the official language, ruling it harmed the ability of non-English-speaking people to obtain access to their government. The justices also concluded the amendment limited the political speech of elected officials and public employees.

A revised version was approved by a margin of nearly 2-1 in 2006 with wide-open language allowing unofficial conversations in any language. Gallardo said he believes SCR 1035, which now requires a final roll-call vote before going to the House, creates the same legal problems that struck down the first version.

Senators did take specific aim at illegal immigrants, though, with two other measures also given preliminary approval on Monday.

SB 1222 tightens up existing laws which are designed to deny public benefits to those not in the country legally.

But the main provision of this measure requires cities that operate public housing to evict any family where at least one member of the family is not in this country legally, even if all the others in the household are U.S. citizens. It also bars communities from renting out public housing without first getting proof of legal presence in the country.

Senators also approved SB 1012 which requires a person to provide proof of being a U.S. citizen or having a legal right to both live and work in this country before the state Department of Public Safety can issue a "fingerprint clearance card.''

Those cards essentially amount to background checks which are necessary for various public and private employment.

Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said DPS does not now seek such proof of citizenship or work authorization. The result, he said, is people getting these cards which some employers believe proves it is OK to hire that person.

The measures are part of a larger package of Senate bills aimed at combating illegal immigration on the state level. Another measure awaiting Senate action would require parents to provide proof of citizenship when enrolling children in school, bar anyone not here legally from attending state universities and community colleges and make it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to drive in Arizona.

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