Dems blast push for English-only Georgia communication rule
ATLANTA (AP) — When state Rep. Pedro “Pete” Marin moved from Puerto Rico to Georgia with his family in 1995, he and his wife Nereida each had to apply for a new driver’s license.
Although they had been licensed drivers in Puerto Rico for years, the Marins had to take the same written exam that Georgia teenagers do. But to pass the road-rules half of the written test, Nereida Marin needed help, her husband recalled, because her English at the time wasn’t strong enough.
Fortunately for her, Georgia offered the written exam in various foreign languages. It’s one of more than 40 states that do. She took the test in Spanish and passed. She was soon driving on her own and, her husband says, was able to be a “productive Georgian.”
However, that option could disappear. A state lawmaker is sponsoring legislation to make Georgia offer such services only in English.
From January to October 2015 — the most recent period for which Georgia’s Department of Driver Services has compiled statistics — about 8 percent of written driver’s license tests were taken in one of 11 foreign languages offered. Of those approximately 290,000 written exams, about 15,000 — 5 percent — were conducted in Spanish. Another 1,000 were taken in Vietnamese, Chinese and Arabic.
For years, though, some Republican lawmakers have argued that the state government should not be so accommodating to non-English speakers. They argue that services such as translating voting ballots and offering interpreters to help immigrants use welfare programs end up costing taxpayers money and don’t encourage non-English speakers to develop the fluency.
“My bill definitely has a taxpayer benefit, but there’s also a benefit for non-English speakers, since a key to economic success is adopting the language quickly,” said GOP Sen. Joshua McKoon of Columbus, who is sponsoring a state constitutional amendment to designate English as Georgia’s official language.