Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/19/1996 02:09 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HB 512 - ENGLISH AS THE COMMON LANGUAGE                                     
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE announced that the next item on the agenda was HB
 512, an act establishing English as the common language and related           
 to the use of English in public records and at public meetings of             
 state agencies.                                                               
 Number 1591                                                                   
 ROGER POPPE, Legislative Aide to Representative Kott, said changes            
 were made to HB 512 and are now incorporated in CSHB 512, version             
 9-LS1700\G.  He believed that once the CSHB 512 version was                   
 incorporated into the Basis System, it would remove concerns from             
 the rural areas of the state regarding this legislation.  He                  
 referred to page three, line nine, and said that language was                 
 deleted to avoid confusion surrounding a native corporation.  The             
 inserted new language was "of the state".                                     
 MR. POPPE said, when drafting HB 512, Representative Kott operated            
 under the assumption that there wasn't any activity at the local              
 level that was conducted in other languages.  He said upon                    
 receiving new information that there are some rural areas                     
 conducting all or part of their meetings in native language, the              
 CSHB 512 was changed so that it does not try to force them to                 
 change that practice.  He said this substantive change of CSHB 512            
 is located on page two, lines 11 through 13, Section B, "where it             
 says a municipality may by ordinance or resolution elect not to be            
 subject to (a) of this section.  In other words a municipal school            
 district or regional educational attendance area may, by vote of              
 the school board, elect not to be subject to (a) of this section,             
 which in essence is "the whole bill."                                         
 Number 1733                                                                   
 IRMA MIRELES read from a statement, "I'm fourth generation American           
 of Mexican descent, bilingual in English and Spanish.  As a member            
 of the Hispanic community and a member of the state advisory                  
 committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, I appreciate the            
 opportunity to submit this statement strongly opposing the proposed           
 HB 512 `an act establishing English as the official language...'              
 We, Hispanics, have a long history of patriotism and honor being in           
 this country and proudly serving in many capacities including the             
 military, since before the Civil War, in spite of years of racism             
 inflicted on us.                                                              
 Hispanic names are well engraved in Alaska's history and geography,           
 and, in Alaska, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language           
 next to Yupik.  We are one of the fastest growing population and in           
 Juneau, we number about 1,500 and contribute with sweat of our                
 brow, taxes and votes.  We have strong family values and encourage            
 our children to learn English and be valuable citizens by being               
 bilingual.  An English only law can lead to a stigma, embarrassing            
 our children into believing they are second-class citizens when               
 speaking Spanish.  This bill claims that bilingual education would            
 be protected.  Did you know that U.S. English, the real sponsors of           
 this bill, in their action program state, `Restriction of                     
 government funding for bilingual education to short-term program              
 only'?  We have a little bit of protection here since Alaska                  
 statute does protect it under Article 6.  In 1926, Alaska passed a            
 literacy law as a requirement for voting.  The intent of this law             
 was to keep Alaska Natives from voting.  Today, you have HB 512.              
 Again, U.S. English in their action program state, `Repeal laws               
 mandating multilingual ballots and voting materials.'  This bill              
 would open the door for similar laws and would be a proponent of              
 racism.  Two of Alaska's biggest industries are tourism and trade             
 with foreign countries like Russia and Japan.  For the Alaska                 
 Visitor Statistics Program, tourist spent over $685.4 million in              
 goods and services, of this approximately $400 million are from               
 foreign visitors.  It makes no sense to pass this law declaring               
 foreign languages unwelcome in Alaska.  In fact, this proposed law            
 would amount to the state of Alaska sanctioning bigotry.                      
 The National Education Association (NEA) has stated, `An English              
 only law would make it more difficult for schools to prepare                  
 students for America's jobs of the future.'  Remember, during this            
 information era, technology and economic opportunity does not stop            
 within U.S. borders.  We must prepare our children for tomorrow, a            
 world of diversity.                                                           
 Per 1990 census, English is spoken by 97 percent of the American              
 people and is universally recognized as `America's Language', yet,            
 at no time in American history has the U.S. had an official                   
 national language.  Research shows that todays immigrants are                 
 learning English faster than previous generations.  According to              
 Juneau Adult Basic Education monthly statistics, they have                    
 approximately 30 students taking English as a second language on a            
 monthly basis.  Also, more than 99.9 percent of federal documents             
 are in English according to General Accounting Office (GOA).                  
 You need to take in consideration that such a law leaves the state            
 open for extensive, expensive, divisive and frivolous litigation.             
 There have been several court cases from other states, who have               
 passed an English only laws, and all of those states have been                
 expensive not only for the states but for some of the businesses.             
 And all of those cases have been found unconstitutional.  We are a            
 country composed of many cultures and languages.  Language                    
 diversity is to be celebrated not castigated.                                 
 Does this proposed bill make me angry?  A strong resounding `yes.'            
 It makes me angry and thousands of citizens.  This bill not only              
 implies racism but denial of our fifth and fourteenth Amendment               
 freedoms and does not ensure procedural and substantive due                   
 process.  The U.S. is a country that prides itself in our freedom             
 and this bill would trample on one of our basic rights and that is            
 speech, no matter in what language we choose to express that                  
 freedom.  English is not an endangered language.  We, the people,             
 understand and accept the economic importance of knowing English              
 and do not need a law to force us to learn it.  Further, this bill            
 would not unite us, it would only serve to divide us and has the              
 potential of bringing about a great deal of prejudice and you,                
 members of this committee, have it in your power to defeat this               
 racist bill right here.  And as the National Association for                  
 Bilingual Education states, `American ideals of freedom, democracy            
 and tolerance, not language, have been and will continue to be the            
 bonds that hold America together.'                                            
 I would like to conclude with a quote from Mexico's first Native              
 American President, Benito Juarez, who said, `El respeto al derecho           
 ajeno es la paz.'  Respect for others rights is peace."                       
 Number 2158                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG confirmed that Ms. Mireles was on the U.S.            
 Commission for Civil Rights, state advisory committee.  He asked,             
 if he voted for HB 512, whether she would consider him a racist.              
 Number 2166                                                                   
 MS. MIRELES said she hoped he was not a racist, but said that it              
 has been proven by the other bills, passed in other states                    
 regarding English as the official language, that it is, in fact,              
 racist legislation.                                                           
 Number 2158                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said he took exception to the testimony by            
 Ms. Mireles.                                                                  
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked Co-Chair Bunde to read a letter from            
 Nora Marks Dauenhauer, principal researcher, Language and Cultural            
 Studies, Sealaska Heritage Foundation, into the record.                       
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE read from the letter, "I oppose HB 512, an act to              
 make English the official language of Alaska.                                 
 The law is unnecessary and redundant.  English is already the                 
 common language of communication of Alaska.                                   
 This bill seems to have its origins in the insecurity and prejudice           
 of some segments of the white community.  It seems to come from               
 fears that are absolutely unfounded .  Mexican novelist, Carlos               
 Fuentes, suggested to journalist Bill Moyer in an interview that,             
 `When you get a proposition in California to vote the English                 
 language as the official language of the state of California, it              
 only means one thing that English is no longer the official                   
 language of the state of California.'                                         
 This is not the case in Alaska.  There is no threat to English or             
 any other language.  In fact, most Alaska Native languages are in             
 danger of extinction.                                                         
 Native languages have suffered discrimination and persecution under           
 the `English-only' policies of the past, and many schools still,              
 are still reluctant to include Alaska Native language and cultural            
 instruction in the curriculum.                                                
 This bill is certainly an affront to the dignity and status of                
 Alaska Native languages.  The bill also looks like a new threat to            
 the survival of Alaska Native languages.                                      
 The bill serves no practical purpose.  It is symbolic and divisive.           
 I fear that it may generate or support anti-Native language emotion           
 and activity in the future, and that it may become the legal basis            
 or precedents for laws or policies against Alaska Native languages            
 in the future.                                                                
 We need the support of the Alaska State Legislature to protect the            
 rights and ethnic heritage of all citizens, and not pass                      
 TAPE 96-30, SIDE A                                                            
 Number 0000                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE continued reading from the letter, "...legislation             
 directed against Alaska Native people and their heritage."                    
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON made a motion to adopt Amendment 1 to HB
 512.  She said Amendment 1 inserts, "and the languages of Natives             
 peoples indigenous to the state."  She developed Amendment 1 based            
 on a Hawaiian model where English and Hawaiian are official                   
 languages of the state.  She said she was going to name each Native           
 language, but was advised by the drafters that adding the language            
 of Native people was the correct use of language for the amendment.           
 She wanted to clarify that the languages include; Aleutian, Eskimo,           
 Tsimshiann, Tlingit, Haida, Yupik and Anthabaskan languages.  The             
 rest of Amendment 1 brings unity within the language of HB 512.               
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE asked if the title of HB 512 would read, "Establish            
 English and the languages of Native people indigenous to this state           
 as the official language and relating to the use of English then in           
 public records and at public meetings."  He clarified that the                
 official languages are English and Native languages, but English              
 would remain as the official written language.                                
 Number 0167                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said the second part of the proposed Amendment           
 1, page one, line two, "English" is deleted, and "the common                  
 languages" is inserted.                                                       
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE asked if this is a challenge where we have languages           
 that are oral and not written.  He then asked if Yupik were a                 
 written language.                                                             
 Number 0198                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON confirmed that Yupik is a written language.           
 She said Amendment 1 brings in the Native languages and allows them           
 to be used.                                                                   
 Number 0211                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY referred back to Ms. Mireles testimony and said the           
 reason for HB 512 is to say that the official paperwork of the                
 state of Alaska will be in English.  The bill does not say that               
 Spanish, Gaelic or Yupik cannot be taught.  She referred to the               
 proposed Amendment 1 and said this language would cause meetings to           
 be recorded in English and Yupik.                                             
 Number 0289                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said Amendment 1 only states that English             
 and Native languages are the official languages.                              
 Number 0289                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE clarified that the proposed Amendment 1 does not               
 address Spanish, German or the dialects of Filipino.                          
 Number 0317                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON referred to another bill, regarding the               
 pioneers of Alaska and said that this bill was modified to                    
 recognize Natives and pioneers, as the bill drafters recognized               
 that Native people were here before white settlers.  She said                 
 Amendment 1 recognizes that Native languages were the existing                
 languages.  She said the pioneers of Alaska did have the foresight            
 of the Hawaiians to put the acknowledgement of Natives into the               
 Number 0358                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON referred to a resolution from AFN which               
 states that they are against HB 512 and added that Amendment 1                
 might disperse some of their concerns.                                        
 Number 0384                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GARY DAVIS asked for clarification about the use of            
 other languages in documents and written materials.                           
 Number 0407                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said the written materials could be in                
 either of the languages, that they did not have to be in all of the           
 Number 0422                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY commented that the proposed Amendment 1 would leave           
 out languages such as Spanish.                                                
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON stated that she did not support HB 512,               
 just that she was proposing this change to the bill.                          
 Number 0439                                                                   
 MR. POPPE said that as a result of the proposed Amendment 1, it               
 would end up requiring, potentially, all documents in Alaska to be            
 interpreted and published in 28 languages.  He said, because of               
 this fact, he believed the sponsor would be opposed to the proposed           
 Amendment 1.  He said HB 512 does try to take into consideration              
 that Native languages did exist in Alaska first and the bill                  
 attempts to incorporate, in the language, accommodations to current           
 practices among Native people.                                                
 Number 0557                                                                   
 MR. POPPE said, in regards to the opposition of HB 512 by AFN in              
 their October 1995 resolution, the AFN is currently reconsidering             
 this whole issue due information they have received regarding this            
 bill.  He referred to the two national organizations that are                 
 supporting language activity of this type, U.S. English and English           
 First.  He said U.S. English takes a moderate approach and tries to           
 preserve all bilingual activity.  English First, as part of their             
 legislation and official approach, is trying to eliminate all                 
 bilingual programs at the national and local level as well as                 
 intruding into the private sector to have English as the only                 
 language.  He said English First is more conservative and extreme             
 in its approach than is the sponsor of HB 512.                                
 A roll call vote was taken on Amendment 1.  Representatives Brice,            
 Robinson voted yea.  Representatives G. Davis, Rokeberg, Toohey and           
 Bunde voted nay.  Amendment 1 failed to be adopted to HB 512 in the           
 House Standing Committee on Health, Education and Social Services.            
 Number 0622                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG made a motion to move CSHB 512, version G,            
 out of the committee.                                                         
 Number 0714                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE objected to the motion.  He said his view of             
 CSHB 512 was tainted, not so much based on the bill's merits,                 
 although the merits are frivolous, but by this organization, U.S.             
 English.  He questioned the ethics of some of their lobbying                  
 efforts and said he resented the misinformation U.S. English                  
 presented to this committee and to him personally.  He said he                
 could not support HB 512 because it is supported by such an                   
 unscrupulous group.                                                           
 Number 0707                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked for specific facts.                                     
 Number 0714                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said U.S. English told him that Hawaii was one           
 of the states that had English as the official language.  He said             
 he was also told, by U.S. English in their presentation to this               
 committee, that you are not required to know English to gain                  
 citizenship.  He said, upon checking with Immigration and                     
 Naturalization Services, he was told that this was not true.                  
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said that the representative from U.S. English           
 told him that AFN had not taken a stand, and then he found the                
 resolution against HB 512 in the committee packet.  He said if the            
 committee is to make decisions on information provided by this                
 organization, he said the committee needed to make sure that they             
 were receiving the proper information.                                        
 Number 0808                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said he would be willing to support an                
 amendment, similar to Amendment 1, if it clarified the uses and               
 applications of the languages to a greater degree.                            
 Number 0862                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said no one has convinced her that there is           
 any problem in the state of Alaska that requires this piece of                
 legislation.  She said HB 512 has been divisive and has caused the            
 Native constituents in her district to feel that their Native                 
 languages are rejected.  She said AFN might change their position,            
 but added that the only resolution currently is that AFN opposes HB
 512.  She wanted to recognize that all of us are racist, and to               
 recognize that fact, allows for healing.  She said the people who             
 try not to be a racist, find themselves being racist.  She said it            
 is a constant education process that we have to work on and                   
 understand when and where we cross that barrier.                              
 Number 0940                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE suggested that the word, "ethnocentric" be used,               
 rather than the word, "racist."  He said we are, to varying                   
 degrees, ethnocentric.  He said, as someone who studied                       
 psycholinguistics, the common language is the one thing that has              
 kept this nation from fragmenting.  He said we need a common                  
 language, but questioned what was "broken" in Alaska.  He said he             
 would have less hesitation to support HB 512 if there had not been            
 the history of suppressing other languages in the education system.           
 He said we are more enlightened now, and reiterated that we need a            
 common language.                                                              
 A roll call vote was taken on CSHB 512, version G.  Representatives           
 G. Davis, Rokeberg and Toohey voted yea.  Representatives Brice,              
 Robinson and Bunde voted nay.  CSHB 512 failed to be moved from the           
 House Standing Committee on Health, Education and Social Services.            
 HB 512 - ENGLISH AS THE COMMON LANGUAGE                                     
 Number 0435                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG made a motion to rescind the committee's              
 action on "HB 512."                                                           
 Number 0450                                                                   
 A roll call vote was taken on whether to rescind the action of the            
 committee on "HB 512."  Representatives G. Davis, Rokeberg, Vezey,            
 Toohey and Bunde voted yea.  Representatives Brice and Robinson               
 voted nay.  The committee action on HB 512 was rescinded by the               
 House Standing Committee on Health, Education and Social Services.            
 Number 0500                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG made a motion to move "HB 512 with attached           
 fiscal notes and individual recommendations."                                 
 A roll call vote was taken on "HB 512."  Representatives Rokeberg,            
 G. Davis, Vezey and Toohey voted yea.  Representatives Brice,                 
 Robinson and Bunde voted nay.  "HB 512" was moved from the House              
 Standing Committee on Health, Education and Social Services.                  

Document Name Date/Time Subjects