GOP resurrects bill to make English official language

Posted at 10:53 AM, Jan 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-07 13:07:59-05

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers have resurrected a bill that would make English the official language in Wisconsin, renewing their argument that the measure will push immigrants to learn the language and make them more attractive to employers.

Sens. Andre Jacque, Dave Craig and Steve Nass began circulating the bill for co-sponsors Monday. The trio is among the most conservative members of the Republican majority.

The proposal would declare English as Wisconsin’s official language and require all state and local government officials to write all their documents in English. The bill would allow for the use of other languages in certain situations, including to protect a citizen’s health or safety, to teach another language, to facilitate census counts and to protect criminal defendants’ rights. The measure wouldn’t restrict the use of other languages for non-governmental purposes.

The senators wrote in a memo to their colleagues seeking co-sponsors that English is vital to American society and that immigrants’ job prospects improve dramatically if they can use the language.

Thirty-two other states, including neighboring Illinois and Iowa, have declared English as their official language, according to U.S. English, a citizen’s group that works to preserve the language.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, didn’t immediately respond to an email inquiring about the bill’s chances. Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, had no immediate comment.

The clock is already ticking for Jacque, Craig and Nass; with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers poised to veto any major GOP initiatives, Vos and Fitzgerald are expected to convene only a handful of floor periods before the 2019-20 session ends this spring.

Jacque and Craig introduced the bill in 2013 when they were both in the state Assembly. They sounded the same arguments then about how knowing English would open doors for immigrants. Republicans controlled the Legislature then but the bill didn’t get so much as a hearing.

Former state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat, introduced the bill in 2009 and got a number of Republicans to sign on as co-sponsors but Democrats controlled the Legislature that session and the proposal never got a hearing.

Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, a Latina Democrat from Milwaukee, issued a statement Monday accusing Republicans of pushing an anti-Latino agenda to divide the state.

“This bill reared its ugly head in previous sessions, but it didn’t even receive a public hearing because it is clear Wisconsinites do not support such extreme policies,” she said. “The shameful attacks on Latinos are divide and conquer politics at their worst.”

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