Meadville Tribune

Opinion

April 8, 2014

Reps want to hang ‘English only’ sign at the Capitol

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania, it turns out, is one of 19 states that have failed to address the menace that is non-English. Or maybe it’s un-English? Or dis-English? There must be a word for it.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, is stepping forward to correct this. Metcalfe has authored a bill that would make English the official language of Pennsylvania.

This prompted Rep. Angel Cruz, D-Philadelphia, to counter-propose that Spanish be our official language.

Metcalfe quoted Theodore Roosevelt in a memo to other lawmakers: “We have one language here, and that is the English language, and we intend to see that America’s melting pot turns our people out as Americans.”

Everyone loves Teddy Roosevelt. He was great in “Night at the Museum.”

Metcalfe notes that it costs money to produce government paperwork in different languages.

In 2002, the federal Office of Management and Budget looked at the expense associated with dealing with limited-English residents. It estimated that the California Department of Motor Vehicles spends 1.7 percent more to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English.

Here in Harrisburg, the Department of Public Welfare, alone, spent $29,000 last year paying translators to churn out documents in languages other than English, agency spokeswoman Kathaleen Gillis said last week.

Metcalfe wrote to fellow lawmakers: “Pennsylvania taxpayers simply cannot afford, and should not continue to be required, to foot the bill for government translating and printing infinite amounts of forms, documents and publications in many languages other than English.” His plea enticed 18 other representatives — including Republican Rep. Michelle Brooks of Crawford County — to sign on as co-sponsors.

Metcalfe asserts that his bill will not prevent anyone from conducting personal affairs in another language. It merely requires that all government business — including public documents — be limited to English.

“Time and time again, history has demonstrated that the English language is one of the strongest and most fundamental ties uniting all American citizens,” he said.

The Official Language Act is expected to be referred to the House State Government Committee for consideration.

Cruz noted that Latinos are the largest minority ethnic group in the United States; more than 810,000 live in Pennsylvania. By 2050, Latinos will represent 30 percent of the total U.S. population.

“Pennsylvania must be forward thinking and preemptive in addressing and embracing both an impending local and national demographic transformation,” Cruz argued in a memo seeking support from other lawmakers.

Only one lawmaker bothered signing on as a cosponsor of Cruz’s resolution. His bill also sits in the House State Government Committee, which happens to be chaired by Metcalfe.

And, thinking our forefathers, as we did in the beginning of this column: The folks at the lobbying firm Greenlee Partners in Harrisburg suggested in their newsletter that Pennsylvania Dutch would be a better alternative, yet, as the state’s official language.

It’s probably not the most practical notion, but it has a certain je ne sais quoi. (I had to get that in before they made it illegal.)

John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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