House English measure still going
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 9, 2005

Would declare official tongue

Elvia Díaz


Democratic state lawmakers unsuccessfully fought Tuesday to derail a proposed 2006 ballot measure mandating that Arizona government functions be done in English.

Sharply divided along party lines, the House of Representatives tentatively endorsed a referendum to declare English as the state's official language and require government workers to carry out their official duties in English.

House Concurrent Resolution 2030 faces a final vote in that chamber before it goes to the Senate. If approved, the measure would go on the November 2006 ballot.

Republican Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the main sponsor, hailed the measure as necessary to save thousands of dollars the state government spends annually printing documents in Spanish and other languages.

"This is no attempt to diminish the culture of folks who speak many other languages," Pearce said. "We're an English-speaking nation. The official record should be in English."

Democrats criticized the measure as unconstitutional and unfair.

"Nobody is trying to replace English or any other language," said Rep. Pete Rios, D-Hayden. "But people should keep in mind that we share a border with Mexico. Are we constantly infused with the Spanish language? Absolutely. Is there anything wrong with that? I don't think so."

Under the measure, documents necessary for international trade, for tourism and to protect the public's health and safety would not be affected.

Spanish-language documents printed by prison and health officials including immunization, childhood lead poisoning prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, prison orientation handbooks and sanitation signs could be exempted.

Similarly, it would not affect people conducting private business.

Documents produced in Spanish such as lottery advertising, automobile insurance premium comparisons and the Spanish-language fliers Phoenix attached to 696 water bills at the request of residents would be banned. Phoenix has 428,626 water users, city officials said.

On Tuesday, Pearce successfully changed the measure to include that election ballots be printed only in English. Democrats challenged the constitutionality of such an amendment.

Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, argued that printing ballots only in English violates the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Pearce rejected that notion.

He has said his measure would not face the same fate of the English-only law Arizona voters narrowly approved in 1988. The state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because it violated free-speech and equal-protection rights. The new proposal is different, Pearce has said, because it doesn't prevent anyone from speaking or learning any language they want.