Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/05/1996 02:04 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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             
 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                     
 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              
 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               
 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                  
 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             
 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              
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE announced that HB 512 would held in committee until            
 the next meeting.                                                             

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