In 2013, then-Representatives André Jacque and Dave Craig introduced a bill that would have made English the official language of Wisconsin. The Republicans controlled the legislature at the time, but the bill didn’t receive a hearing.
Now the bill’s authors are reviving the bill in the state senate.
Their stated motives? To encourage non-English speakers to learn the language as a means to greater economic self-sufficiency.
“I think a very strong case was made for the bill by somebody who actually was learning English as a second language in the Madison area at a literacy council,” Jacque shares.
“He showed a form from the Department of Motor Vehicles where it was English on one side and Spanish on the other side, and basically made the point that we really aren’t incentivizing learning English, we’re kind of enabling people not to learn the language with the current system [and] with the current forms. He wants to learn English, and is doing so, because he knows that it’s going to better allow him to provide for his family. It’s going to significantly improve what he’s able to bring home in terms of a paycheck.”
Christine Neumann-Ortiz is the executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action, the arm of Voces de la Frontera that looks to mobilize voters to elect pro-immigrant candidates.
She says the bill would cause older residents who didn’t have the opportunity to learn English to lose access to critical information about health care, the courts, voting, and more.
“Frankly, there are people who are older, adult, working-class folks who worked from a very young age [and] were able to provide a better life for their children and their grandchildren, but had to do hard, physical labor for most of their life, and they didn’t have the privilege to be able to learn, to dominate English. So, whatever those reasons, we want to make sure everyone has access to that [information],” Neumann-Ortiz says.
Neumann-Ortiz also believe this legislation stems from far-right and white supremacist groups.
“Where this is a movement that’s pushing for this, frankly, is, sadly, in the increase of what we’ve seen around the growth of the far-right. These [far-right] policies, whether it’s the Muslim ban or whether it’s the repeal of DACA that, again, the criteria is not safety, the criteria is racism, it’s xenophobia, and it’s really trying to test the broader society about what we stand for,” she adds.
But, Sen. Jacque says there is strong bipartisan and public support for the proposal.
“So, this is legislation that I have introduced previously, [and] it would have Wisconsin join the 32 other states of the Union that currently have English as their official language for government expression,” Jacque notes.
“This is something that has been very bipartisan in the past. Former state Representative Marlin Schneider, a Democrat, had introduced this back in 2009 previously when it was introduced in the same form, and I know that former Democratic state Representative Bob Ziegelbauer had been one of the lead co-authors as well.”
Only 31 states have English as an official language. Louisiana was required to adopt English as its official language to join the Union in 1807, but has not had an official language since French received special status in 1968.
Sen. Jacque also says local governments would still be able to decide whether or not to print documents in languages other than English.
The 2013 version of the bill allows government officials to use a language other than English in oral or written communication to, among other provisions, “protect the health, safety, or liberty of citizens” and “comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
The bill is circulating for co-sponsorship.
On a national level, U.S. Congressman Glenn Grothman, who represents rural communities around Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay, signed on to the English Language Unity Act, which would make English the country’s official language.
That bill would also make testing English part of the naturalization process.
(Image courtesy Gerd Altmann on Pixabay)