Bill protects businesses without translator - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Bill protects businesses without translator

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Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009 7:02 pm | Updated: 1:44 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

State senators took the first steps Friday to protect businesses from winding up in legal trouble for failing to provide translators for their customers who do not speak English.

SB1199, as unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would spell out that doesn't require any business owner to provide a "trained and competent bilingual person" to assist customers who are seeking help. Potentially more significant, it would allow businesses in some circumstances to actually turn the customer away.

State senators took the first steps Friday to protect businesses from winding up in legal trouble for failing to provide translators for their customers who do not speak English.

Existing law prohibits discrimination in places of "public accommodation against anyone because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or ancestry." That broad category includes restaurants, hotels, theaters and anyplace that offers services or goods to the general public.

But SB1199, as unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would spell out that doesn't require any business owner to provide a "trained and competent bilingual person" to assist customers who are seeking help. Potentially more significant, it would allow businesses in some circumstances to actually turn the customer away.

The legislation is the result of a problem incurred by a Glendale optometrist. But the effect of the bill would be much broader.

John Schrolucke told lawmakers a woman speaking only Spanish came into his office.

Schrolucke said the woman did bring her 12-year-old child with her. But he said allowing the child to interpret for the parent would have gotten him into legal trouble.

First, he said, federal regulations require that people be at least 18 before they can consent to medical care. Having the child interpret would essentially be having a 12-year-old give the go-ahead.

Potentially more significant, Schrolucke said he faced a possible malpractice lawsuit if the child did not properly translate some of the more technical explanations being provided.

So he turned the woman away, telling her through her child to come back with someone at least 18. Schrolucke said when people cannot come in with an adult interpreter he routinely gives them the business cards of two other optometrists who do speak Spanish.

He said the woman filed a discrimination complaint with the Arizona Attorney General's Office. It was only after an investigation and some time and effort on his part that the complaint was dismissed.

Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, who crafted SB1199, said businesses should not have to fear they will incur the time and expense of an investigation or even a possible lawsuit because they haven't hired qualified people to interpret.

"He has been horribly maligned by the system, drug through the mud, his time consumed, his money consumed, his reputation put at risk," Huppenthal said. "What has happened to him makes me ashamed to say I'm a part of the government that did that to him."

Huppenthal offered his apology.

"If doing this bill can, in some way, give you some sense that maybe nobody else will be treated the way you were treated, I hope that makes it up somehow," he said. "That's the least we can do."

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, called it "outrageous" that anyone would demand services from a private business in a language other than English.

The measure now goes to the full Senate.

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