English may become official language
May 17, 2006
Detroit Free Press


State House passes legislation with bipartisan support

LANSING -- English would become the state's official language under a bill passed Tuesday by the state House.

If the legislation becomes law, state agencies would not be required to provide documents in languages other than English. However, supporters of the bill said nothing in it would prohibit an agency from printing documents in a foreign language if it so desired.

The bill, passed by a 73-32 vote, now goes to the Senate. It had bipartisan support, but it lost a few votes when it was changed on the House floor to remove some clarifying language suggested by Democrats at the committee level.

Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, a Republican from Kalamazoo and the bill's sponsor, said having an official language would be a unifying factor and would encourage people to learn English. That would help more people raise their educational and income levels, he said.

"I believe what makes us strong as a state and a nation is what we share in common," Hoogendyk said. "One thing we share is our language."

More than 8% of people in Michigan ages 5 and older speak a language other than English at home, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

More than half the states have designated English as their official language, according to a national group called ProEnglish, which favors the measures.

The House bill as passed states that except as otherwise provided by law, a state agency is not required to provide documents, publish written materials or provide Web site content in any language other than English.

Supporters said that means a state agency could still publish materials in a foreign language if it decides it is warranted.

But some Democrats argued that the legislation as passed could deny immigrants and others who may not speak English vital documents in their own language.

That could become a problem in case of health-related or other emergencies, said Rep. Steve Tobocman, a Detroit Democrat.

Democrats had added language to the bill in a House committee that said there would be no prohibition on governments printing materials in a foreign language.

Some Republicans said the amendment was unnecessary, but they supported it at the committee level.

With that language gone, some of the bill's support evaporated on the House floor.

"This is dangerous," said Rep. Alexander Lipsey, a Kalamazoo Democrat.