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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

HJR 7 English as the Language of Official Proceedings

On Feb. 27 the house passed HJR 7 which would make English the language of all official proceedings in Missouri. If passed by the Senate the measure would go to a vote of the people in November of 2008. I voted against the resolution because it isn't necessary. It has not caused a problem to date and I don't see it causing a problem in the future. Proponents of the measure said the issue is urgent and must be addressed with this constitutional amendment, yet when amendments were offered to move up the date on which the issue would go to the voters the amendments were voted down.
We clearly have a situation here where certain political parties want an issue on the ballot that will draw out their supporters in the November 08 elections.
This Resolution may also run into some problems with the courts. The Hancock Amendment prevents the State Government from imposing unfunded mandates on local governments. Currently many documents are submitted to the courts in a foreign language. Some examples are marriage licenses, birth certificates and adoption papers. Currently these documents do not need to be translated but with the passage of this constitutional amendment they would be, which would cost the local courts money and be an unfunded mandate.


Anonymous said...

A great number of governments find it convenient to require an official language for efficiency in process. It needn't be interpreted as a blatant attempt to avoid an inclusive government. Imagine the job of a Missouri judge who is forced to accept a petition written in Mandarin Chinese because the state doesn't have an official language! If we haven't given those judges that much of a basic protection yet, then I can understand why some cases get interpreted as oddly as they do!

A standard language should not be interpreted as some right-wing attempt to wipe out the documented history of any culture. Filing of documents originally created in a foreign language could easily be preserved in their native form if they were attached as an exhibit to a document prepared in English and clearly stating on their face the purpose of the attached non-English documents. As an example, a simple affadavit could be drafted to state that "this is a true and correct copy of a birth certificate for [John Q Public] as it was originally issued in [the Czech Republic] on [July 4, 1998].

The unfunded mandate argument is as old as civil politics classes, but it doesn't really hold water. You can avoid the costs to the State for translating documents by requiring the petitioners or filers of those documents to submit them in the official language at the outset. Some might regard THAT as a separate right-wing conspiracy, but there are very few governments in Europe, Asia, South America or Africa where you could show up and expect them to deal with your document filings in English. Would you really expect them to do otherwise? (And by the way, the last time I showed up at the polling place in Missouri, they asked me my party alliance and not my preferred language for voting. I'm pretty sure English was my only choice.)

In a political world that seems loathe to debate real issues based on the merits, you might be right that certain political parties (aka Republicans?) choose to raise this issue in an attempt to energize their "core" constituents. If so, that's a shame. It would also be a political miscalculation in my view. Take the example of Hispanic voters. Hispanic voters have NOT proven to align universally with Democratic candidates in jurisdictions across the county, so Rebublicans could be expected to tread very cautiously and judiciously in any debate of "official language". To do purely in some misguided attempt to "energize the core" would be foolish. So I have trouble pinning that motivation on them. I may be naive.

I look fondly to the days of old when each topic stood on its own in a public debate. These days every issue is nothing more than a pawn on a chessboard, and the only the chessmasters can interpret the entire context of the moves. Our founding fathers didn't expect this.

Paul P.
A Simple Checkers Player

State Rep. Mike Daus said...

Hey Paul,

Thanks for the comments and you bring up some really good points. I'll point out just one thing regarding the 2008 November election. We could have simply passed a bill and done this right now in 2007. The need to send this to the voters and add it to our State constitution seems extreme. Although many of the Reps had your rational on the subject during the debate there was still a good share of "in America we speak American" and "if you don't want to be like us you shouldn't have come here" attitude for my taste.

Anonymous said...

OK Representative Daus, I'll defer to your take on the tone of the participants because you were there and I was not. That only seems fair. I only have two parting comments: 1) I still hope that infomed Republicans wouldn't think that every minority group in America is excluded from their core constituency or we'll be destined to become a one party system (Elephants will become extinct). 2) I've heard the Archbishop has his own bill in the works to make Latin the official language of Missouri!

Paul P.

Anonymous said...

I strongly support English as the official language of the state of Missouri and the United States. I'm tired of having to push a button to indicate which language I wish to speak to my utilities company in. I served my country in several overseas countries and I never once expected their government to accomodate my language. If they chose to live in our company, they chose to speak our language. We are going to Liberalize this country into a third world power.