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March 9, 2006

''English Only!'' Good or Bad?

Chris Cavey

Legislators in Annapolis are once again about to consider a measure making English the official language of Maryland - HB 1335. This bill is like a bad toupee; it is trying to cover problems that everyone knows exists - problems with immigration laws on a federal level and education in our society. At the state level this legislation is only fodder for talk radio.

On the surface "English only" seems to be just common sense, after all, this is America, and Maryland is a long way from another country with a non-English language. However we have a tide of non-English speaking people flooding into our state.

Personally, I have no problem if we codify English as the official language of the state. I also have no problem with the official cat, butterfly, dinosaur or insect. It is the parts of this new legislation that effect my life through public safety that bothers me.

The current language of the bill states: ".The State and each political subdivision and municipal corporation of the State, including each department, agency, unit, organization, and instrumentality thereof.shall write and publish each official document in English; and conduct each meeting and other official oral communication it authorizes in English."

Senators and delegates cannot send written communication to constituency on official letterhead in any Native American tongue or language. Even Comptroller William Donald Schaefer must make all his interesting comments in English at the Board of Public Works meetings. I have no fear that we will have compliance with these two examples. Our fear should be the effect on public safety in Maryland.

I would like to make sure that drivers in our state have passed some type of driving test and understand the rules of the road. I don't want unlicensed drivers. Currently there are driver tests for the illiterate who are given orally - in English.

Think about that! Would you rather have the driver next to you on our super highways unable to read and comprehend safety and directional signs because they can't read English, or a driver knowing our laws and scoring 100% on a test given in Spanish? Quite a conundrum.

Obtaining a driver's license and a vehicle is a big step in the ability of everyone to improve their economic status. If you can drive, legally, and you are mobile, meaning owning a vehicle, your employer places a higher value on your services and your reliability. This means higher pay and more disposable income. Driving legally is a first big step. This is something our law should encourage.

How about the financial responsibility aspect of vehicle registration? "English Only" will drive some to do so without insurance. If you don't know - and can't comprehend, how can you comply, except through illegal channels? If the ability to understand is removed, many will go uninsured or insured only long enough to secure a title and tags. This could leave us paying for their accidents through our insurance premiums, court time and costs.

How about workers compensation? I will guarantee that there are Spanish-speaking attorneys who would love to represent those who "didn't understand."

Where, then, will this burden of understanding and explanations fall; perhaps to the small business owner, or perhaps in an increase in consumer goods and services? The burden of increased premiums will always be borne by the employer who, like it or not, will pass it to the consumer.

There are hundreds of minority-owned businesses participating in our state's economy where English is not the only official language. Wouldn't we want to make sure the compliance with all laws is understood and that the correct tax burdens are collected?

We seem to forget the cultural differences. Many other countries do not have the bureaucracy, volume of laws and enforcement procedures we have here. How do we convey the message that Maryland requires you to be responsible to your fellow citizen unless we explain it and are sure it is understood?

Wouldn't it be easier to educate and acclimate those who are already here, legal or illegal, to our rules and customs rather than run them further underground and have the balance of society shoulder the financial burden for this hard-headed approach?

The root problem is our success as a society, which provides the opportunity for income and wealth. Who among us wouldn't want to improve our opportunities in life? For the chance at a new and better life, who among us wouldn't leave the place of our birth and start afresh in a place where income, resources and employment abound? Our Founding Fathers knew this was the wave of their future - a country of freedom and opportunity.

So why not come to Maryland? I like it here.don't you?

Our unemployment rate is below 4%, which is statistically considered full employment. There are many counties that have an unemployment rate of less than 3%! The economy is good; everyone is working, including immigrants, legal and illegal.

These people are - in return - spending money within our state and we are supporting our small businesses along with the Wal-Marts, Targets and other similar retail stores which are located everywhere.

An "English Only" law in Maryland, or any other state, does not correct the basic problem. The problem can and will only be corrected by stronger immigration laws at the federal level and by educating the current population of non-English speaking people.

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