Official English gets House OK
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 25, 2005

Close vote sends it to Senate

Elvia Díaz

The House of Representatives on Thursday narrowly endorsed a referendum to declare English the state's official language, with some critics and supporters expressing their opinions in Spanish and other languages.

On a 31-29 vote, the House sent House Concurrent Resolution 2030 to the Senate, which will decide whether to place it on the November 2006 ballot.

The measure requires that most state and local government functions be done in English. Democrats and some Republicans unsuccessfully tried to derail the measure.

Let's not send a message that it is bad to speak Spanish," said Rep. Pete Rios, D-Hayden. "Being bilingual is an asset, not a liability."

Republican Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the main sponsor, said immigrants agree they should learn English and this measure protects that language as a national unifying factor.

"Official English doesn't mean English-only," Pearce said, noting that the referendum includes exemptions.

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 information on immunizations, childhood lead-poisoning prevention, sexually transmitted diseases and prison-orientation handbooks and sanitation signs - could be exempted.

It would not affect people conducting private business.

It does require that election ballots be printed only in English. Democrats challenged the constitutionality of such an amendment, arguing that printing ballots only in English violates the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act. Pearce has rejected that notion.

Speaking in Spanish, Republican Rep. Chuck Gray of Mesa said he isn't afraid of Spanish or its influence.

"What I have a fear is that we spend our taxes in a proper manner," he said.

Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said Spanish has been spoken in Arizona before the state was even a territory.

"Spanish language is part of the culture of Arizona," Prezelski said. "If you don't want to be around people who speak Spanish, maybe you want to move back to Minnesota."

Arizona voters narrowly approved an Official English measure 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 people from speaking or learning any language they want.