English is already the official language of Georgia. But State Sen. Joshua McKoon has proposed a resolution for a constitutional amendment that would allegedly clarify what having English as the official language means. His resolution requires that official government communications be in English only. There would be few exceptions, including teaching foreign languages in schools.
McKoon has argued that the state law is weak and inadequately enforced, requiring a constitutional amendment. He has further claimed that his English-only mandate will save taxpayer dollars. He thinks accommodations are costly. McKoon’s resolution and his statements on social media are contradictory. On a Facebook post about McKoon’s proposal shared from the page Tell Josh McKoon NO, a lengthy conversation ensued:
McKoon and his supporters claim that state agencies such as the Department of Driver Services will save money, but they have yet to provide any factual information to back up this claim.
Other parts of the exchange revealed an alleged concern that “illegal aliens” with DACA might vote. Again, there is no valid evidence to support that assertion. There is further no evidence provided that getting a driver’s license means that person is registered to vote and will cast a ballot. The use of the Department of Driver Services as an example undermines the validity of McKoon’s proposal.
According to the Department of Driver Services, only one portion of the knowledge test required for obtaining a license is available in a language other than English. The knowledge test consists of a road sign test and a road rules test. The road sign test is available in English only, and it requires that all drivers “ can read and understand simple English such as used in highway traffic and directional signs.”
From the website, “the Road Rules Test consists of questions about driver responsibility, knowledge of laws and safe driving practices, applicable to the class of license for which the applicant applied.” The road rules portion of the test is available in 11 languages. According to McKoon 11 equals “unending number of foreign languages.”
Elections have consequences Democrats believe taxpayers should subsidize government communication in an unending number of foreign languages https://t.co/Vcpel4MOkh
— JoshMcKoon 🇺🇸 (@JoshMcKoon) January 30, 2018
While some pro-English-only commenters believe that amending Georgia’s Constitution to specify that the state is English-only would encourage limited English speakers to improve their language skills, little evidence — anecdotal or otherwise — has been provided to support that statement. This type of rhetoric serves no purpose other than to tap into an anti-immigrant sentiment that immigrants must be forced to learn English because they are lazy and don’t want to, haven’t assimilated, etc.
McKoon has dismissed criticism on Twitter, claiming that individuals are “lobbyists for open borders” and “open borders activists.”
Lobbyists for open borders were manipulating the poll so it lost any value other than to remind us of the importance of election security.
— JoshMcKoon 🇺🇸 (@JoshMcKoon) January 30, 2018
— Sam Aguilar (@SamAguilarATL) January 30, 2018
Democrats have argued that McKoon’s proposed bill, like a previous religious freedom bill, is discriminatory and will hamper relationships with businesses that are looking to relocate to Georgia or are already in Georgia. Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, a vocal critic of the proposal, said that having public communications in multiple languages is “a public-positive thing.”
Newly elected Rep. Bee Nguyen has spoken out on the bill’s potential economic harm. In addition to noting the economic challenges of passing such legislation, Nguyen explained, “also it’s a little bit more nuanced. One can communicate in English but may struggle with reading and writing. I’m fluent in Vietnamese but illiterate in Vietnamese. Businesses also understand the importance of having more than one language — and the government is in the business of serving people.”
Nguyen illustrates the need for giving individuals an opportunity to maximize comprehension and understanding of potential rules and regulations. Regarding driver licensing, having the road rules portion in languages other than English provides for an adequate knowledge of those rules. This is not the same as reading signs in English.
McKoon claims that his proposed resolution will help save the state money. But the proponents of the resolution aren’t saying how much money it would save. Now, if they were interested in saving money, we would have Medicaid expansion. Uncompensated care costs pass an unnecessary burden on taxpayers. Such a burden could be alleviated by tapping into federal funds still available for Medicaid expansion. But I digress.
The resolution itself is full of contradictions and claims to solve a problem that isn’t an actual problem. McKoon continues to use the Department of Driver Services as an example when by the wording of this resolution it is unclear whether the provision would even apply to the Department. Specifically, McKoon’s resolution provides an exception for the use of a language other than English “to protect the public health or safety.” Ensuring people of limited English proficiency understand the rules of the road is a public safety issue. McKoon is not trying to improve or streamline state processes; he is trying to appeal to the xenophobia vote ahead of the May primary.
Although the resolution contains language stating that it doesn’t apply where using a foreign language would “permit … [compliance] with any other applicable federal law,” two questions that should be asked concern potential conflicts with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Would McKoon’s proposal put state agencies in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
- Would adopting McKoon’s proposed legislation cost the state money through loss of federal funding?
Title VI applies to state agencies in receipt of federal funds, including the Georgia Departments of Transportation and Public Safety. The Department of Driver Services also is required to comply with Title VI. Government is not in the business of discrimination, contrary to the belief of some.
From the Department of Driver Services website:
The Title VI Program ensures the Georgia DDS’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and all related nondiscrimination authorities. The program will ensure that no person shall on the grounds of race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, low-income, and limited English proficiency (LEP) be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any federally funded program or activity.
Agency compliance is required across all programs, regardless of whether they directly receive federal funds. Failure to comply in one area could result in loss of funding in another.
Also, Title VI includes enforcing the rules concerning Limited English Proficiency. Federal Limited English Proficiency guidance states that not every piece of material is to be translated into every language. Specifically, “written materials routinely provided in English also are provided in regularly encountered languages other than English. It is particularly important to ensure that vital documents are translated into the non-English language of each regularly encountered LEP group eligible to be served or likely to be affected by the program or activity.”
A statement from the Georgia Department of Human Services explained its commitment to ensuring “meaningful language access” for those with Limited English Proficiency and sensory impairment. This is about guaranteeing possibility and opportunity for all. Cutting off the limited services provided would be a setback for those who require assistance because of their Limited English Proficiency.
Also, having multiple dialects spoken in a place does not mean that all of those dialects will require the State to provide services. Don’t be fooled by the doublespeak and convoluting of issues. Again, McKoon is not trying to fix a problem in the system; he’s hoping to drum up support for his campaign for Secretary of State.
Furthermore, despite claims that a “majority” of Georgians support an English-only provision, it is unclear if the alleged majority is clear that the alleged issue McKoon seeks to address is a non-issue. As noted above, McKoon leaves out a lot of facts when he points to the Department of Driver Services’ alleged burden. In his continued use of the Department of Driver Services’ as an example of the necessity of this resolution, McKoon disregards the plain language on the department’s website.
He is further unaware of or unconcerned with the purposes of services provided for Limited English Proficiency individuals. McKoon and his supporters also may not be aware that some of the documents used by Department of Driver Services are reused. It is unclear if they are even aware that only a portion of the service is offered in a language other than English. The devil is in the details.
“Majority rules” arguments are easily used to enforce intolerance. Once upon a time, the majority was also OK with segregated services and restrictions on the ability of nonwhite people to vote. An opinion held by a “majority” — mainly when it is a poorly informed opinion — should not be the driving force of change.
We cannot let uninformed opinions guide the possibility of expanding opportunity for residents of Georgia. A few supporters of this resolution argued that along with cutting back on non-citizens receiving licenses, it could cut back on non-citizens voting in elections. Except there is no evidence that this is a serious concern.
This is an election year, and McKoon is running for Secretary of State. He is playing into white nationalist/racist scare tactics that rile up a portion of the Republican base. While English-only may sound innocuous to some, it is an attempt to drag out those who otherwise might stay home without a little discrimination to support with all that “fiscal conservatism.” The social, political and economic cost to the state is too great of a risk for one man’s personal — and misguided ambition.