Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/05/1996 02:04 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 512 - ENGLISH AS THE COMMON LANGUAGE Number 1503 ROGER POPPE, Legislative Administrative Assistant to Representative Pete Kott, said he would be addressing the amendments in the latest committee substitute. CO-CHAIR BUNDE responded he would first like to take testimony on teleconference. Number 1665 ROY IUTZI-MITCHELL testified via teleconference from Barrow and greeted the committee in Inupiat and Yupik. He strongly urged the committee to defeat HB 512 for several reasons. Even though English is his first language, he speaks German, Inupiat and Yupik also. Since he is an employee of a college, which is part of an Alaskan municipality, if this bill had been enacted he would have been forbidden to greet the committee in the two Alaskan languages. He felt that was a direct violation of Amendment I of the Bill of Rights. Specifically, HB 512 would abridge Alaskans freedom of speech and diminish the right to petition the government. Second, HB 512 suggests that English is an endangered language in need of legislative protection. Section 01.10.210 suggests that Alaskans are currently being denied employment by state agencies, based solely on their lack of facility with languages other than English, even when facility in another language is not a bona fide job qualification. He would like to know if there are examples of this having happened in Alaska; he suspected not. Third, he questioned the bill's finding that "the use of an official language or common language as the language of public record in no way infringes upon the rights of people to exercise the use of a primary language of their choice for private conduct". Based on his own research of Alaska Native languages and other sociolinguists, he said that simply is not true. It is not more true than, for example a law which makes one religion the official religion of the state of Alaska, and then claiming that it in no way infringes upon an individual's religious choice. Fourth, he believed that HB 512 would encourage disharmony among Alaskan residents. The United States has always been a nation of many people through many languages. Until this century, many regions of the U.S. were home to Americans with languages other than English. For example, German/American communities which have used their own languages for local commerce, church, local government and public schooling. Language differences are not the causes of divisiveness. As an example, Switzerland which is officially trilingual and Finland, which is officially bilingual, clearly illustrate that modern industrial countries can consist of groups, each speaking their own languages while simultaneously enjoying high standards of living and a low level of civil strife. Fifth, he urged the committee to consider that the state of Alaska has a moral obligation not to discourage the survival of Alaska's 28 Native languages and to please remember that in this context, English is an immigrant language in Alaska. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Mr. Mitchell if he was by chance a pilot. MR. MITCHELL replied no. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Mr. Mitchell if he had any problem with English being used as the universal language for the aviation industry and if he could see the reasoning behind it. MR. MITCHELL said yes, because the pilots operate in situations where split-second decisions are made. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY understood that, but added that people coming from any other country in the world must use English as the language in the aviation industry. MT. MITCHELL said that was true, and in fact there is a simplified version of English of only a few hundred words, that is taught to pilots of international airlines. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY commented this bill shouldn't be taken personally, but as a help for everyone. CO-CHAIR BUNDE called a recess at 3:35 p.m. TAPE 96-21, SIDE A Number 004 CO-CHAIR BUNDE called the meeting back to order at 3:42 p.m. Number 036 MARY SATTLER, Intern to Representative Irene Nicholia, greeted the committee in Yupik and testified that she is a Yupik Eskimo from Bethel, Alaska. She is currently serving as the 1995-96 youth representative for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and was testifying in the capacity of Miss NCAI for the National Congress of American Indians, which is the oldest, largest and most representative Indian tribal organization in the nation. She is opposed to HB 512. She said that we all need a common language to communicate in, however, she believes that English already serves as the lingua franca and this bill would only undermine the other languages of Alaska. She remarked that implementing legislation which deems English as the official language would only add to the devaluation, depreciation and denigration of extremely important mother tongues. It has been the purpose for the last hundred years or more of the Anglo American school system to destroy the Native American cultures through a concerted attack on traditional Native American languages. The establishment of an official language would further that attack. She felt this legislation was being initiated by a national interest group that did not have Alaska's best interest in mind. She could understand how legislation such as this would have bearing in California or Texas; however, in Alaska nothing has indicated that communication in public meetings of state agencies is hindered in any way by any other language. She does not believe there should be further undermining of the emotional and psychological foundations of the young people in Alaska. The preservation of culture primarily through the medium of language was one of NCAI's founding principals and remains a top priority. She concluded that their linguistic heritage is vital for the continuation of their cultures, which have historically undergone major assaults. Native nations across the country have expressed deep concern about the potential impact of such legislation. Number 213 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY noted that a request had been made at the last hearing for information as to how other states that have Indian/Native cultures have dealt with this. MS. SATTLER added that as the intern for Representative Nicholia, she is the staff member to HB 167, a bill that would include Native language and history in the curriculum at schools. She referred to Section 01.10.210 (a)(3) which states, "does not apply to bilingual education or activities if the education or activities are authorized under state or federal law;". This was a concern for her because it has passed in several other states. She noted that a Congressman from New York introduced a bill on February 21, 1995, that would make English the national language and all federal programs that promote bilingualism. Therefore, this would directly impact legislation promoting bilingualism in the state of Alaska. CO-CHAIR BUNDE didn't believe that HB 512 would have an impact, but the federal legislation may. HB 512 specifically exempts bilingual, but whether the state should be funding bilingual education or if it should be taking place in the home is another discussion. MS. SATTLER felt that deeming English as the official language and establishing it in state agencies, which in a way a school is a state agency, would be justification to further downplay the role of bilingualism. Number 466 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked Ms. Sattler how many documents she was aware of that were written in Yupik. MS. SATTLER said Yupik isn't traditionally a literate language. Number 493 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE asked Ms. Sattler how many school board members she knew of who may, on occasion, respond in their Native language to a question from the public in a public school board meeting. MS. SATTLER's response was inaudible. Number 570 MR. POPPE said at the last meeting the committee had adopted a committee substitute, but the proposed committee substitute Work Draft 9-LS1700\F, dated 3/5/96, before the committee had at least two additional changes. He noted the title had been changed from "English as the common language" in the original version of the bill, to "English as the official language" in the committee substitute to make it clear this legislation deals with public and official documents, and does not attempt to change the speech patterns of anyone in the state. That change from common language to official language is reflected throughout the bill. Language was inserted on page 1 under the Findings Section which reads, "(2) Native people were the first to establish a richness and variety of languages in this state;" to give recognition to that fact. He said language had been added to page 2, line 2, to make it clear the legislation wasn't trying to stop people from speaking in their Native language. Even though the bill drafter had indicated this bill was not an attempt to infringe upon the rights of free speech of the people, the sponsor had inserted "or for speaking in public buildings or other public or private places." He added that in the case of formal public meetings, a translator would have to be provided by the speaker if he/she wished to be understood. MR. POPPE said the real heart of the bill is lines 5-10 on page 2. He noted the word "orally" had been inserted on page 2, line 8, at the request of a committee member, so a public employee of a state agency trying to perform his duty under this bill would be required to provide a summary or statement in English in the written record, but could speak in another language when it was called for. At the suggestion of another committee member "written" was inserted on page 2, line 9, to refer just to written records. Records is defined differently in many instances, so the sponsor was trying to focus on just written records. He referred to page 2, line 16, "under state or federal law" and said the sponsor was not trying to exclude anyone, but it was an oversight that "state" had been omitted. Mr. Poppe remarked that the sponsor had been in touch with Senator Stevens office, and at the request of the AFN, amended language was being inserted in the federal bill so bilingual programs wouldn't be touched. When that language was given to the bill drafter for HB 512, Representative Kott's office was informed that because there were so many updates to the federal bill, it was made generic federal law. The sponsor was trying to meet the federal concerns regarding bilingual education, while still trying to protect those programs. He reiterated it was not the intent of the sponsor to prevent Native communities or their school districts from having kids taught in the Native languages or developing curriculums in the Native language. CO-CHAIR BUNDE referred to page 2, line 25, Section 6, subsection (b) which states, "A person may not be denied employment by a state agency based solely on that individual's lack of facility in a language other than English" and said in California and Florida there are situations where a person need not even apply for the job unless the person is able to speak a specific language. He asked if that was what the sponsor was trying to address. MR. POPPE thought that was the intent, so if there was a specific job requirement which required some facility in another language, that would be taken into account. CO-CHAIR BUNDE noted that in order to work in his office, an individual needs a high level of proficiency with English, which is discriminatory against individuals who are not proficient in English. MR. POPPE said that would not be covered under this bill, but it is a related issue. Number 1107 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY didn't think there was any statutory definition that defines a school district as an agency. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE pointed out it was defined in the Definitions Section of the committee substitute. MR. POPPE said the Native villages had expressed some concern with the school district being included. He added the bill drafter thought this would not be a problem but because of the concern, the sponsor is willing to consider and draft a friendly amendment that would define municipality, which could include second class cities and villages, and redefine school district in some way to take those concerns into account. He didn't have proposed language for the amendment, but emphasized the sponsor was willing to consider it. CO-CHAIR BUNDE questioned that as more people are accommodated, how many dialects of a particular language would be allowed to be used by school board members. He recognized what the sponsor was trying to do, but wondered if there was an end to the process. MR. POPPE said part of what needed to be focused on is that nothing is broken yet, but the sponsor views it as keeping it maintained so something doesn't break down in the future. He pointed out there are no statutes dealing with this issue and other states are receiving requests for printed documents in other languages. In an attempt to meet those requests, the city of Los Angeles for example, in the last municipal election spent $900,000 for ballots printed in Spanish. Also in response to requests, the Internal Revenue Service printed 500,000 tax forms in Spanish and received 318 responses back in Spanish. Mr. Poppe said it's getting into an area of public cost which could start looming on the horizon because there is nothing to prevent a citizen from requesting a public document in any of the 54 languages spoken in this state. Between 1980 and 1990, Canada, because of its dual language requirement with French, spent nationally $6.7 billion on public documents in French as well as English, and their population is one-tenth of Alaska's. The Division of Elections estimated their costs to be $11,500 if they were to receive such a request. That would be for just one language and would not include translation costs. CO-CHAIR BUNDE announced that HB 512 would held in committee until the next meeting.