Rep. Eric Watson Passes English Only Bill In Transportation Subcommittee

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A bill that would require all written examinations for all driver licenses be in English passed in the public safety transportation subcommittee of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Rep. Eric Watson, prime sponsor of the bill, said that HB 0262 "will put thousands of taxpayer dollars back into our budget, and most of all, make it safer for our drivers on our Tennessee roadways.

"As a legislator who represents the people of my district in Bradley, Polk, and Meigs Counties, I often discover the solution to a problem is not passing another law, but simply enforcing a law that already exists. Here is an example.

"In 1984 Tennessee adopted a law making English the official language of our state. The law read in part, 'All communications and publications …produced by governmental entities in Tennessee shall be in English.' In the minds of most people I think the meaning of that sentence is pretty clear.

"But what is clear to ordinary people too often seems beyond the grasp of government bureaucrats. For instance, Tennessee Department of Safety officials decided that the phrase 'all communications and publications' some how does not apply to Tennessee driver’s license examinations or driver’s license study guides. They think it is perfectly okay to print study guides and administer driver’s license exams in three other languages in addition to our state official language. Those other languages are Spanish, Korean, and Japanese. That concerns me. It is bad enough to ignore a law if doing so has no consequences. But it is a different matter if ignoring a law has consequences, and they happen to be serious.

"In this case the stakes could not be higher. Ignoring the law jeopardizes the safety of everyone using our roads and highways. Drivers who cannot read highway warning and traffic signs, or hazard signs on other vehicles, or talk to police or public safety personnel in the event of a serious accident or emergency are a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road. To cite one example, a few years ago 23 passengers in a bus being evacuated ahead of Hurricane Rita in Texas burned to death because their driver did not know enough English to warn them that the bus was on fire. That kind of public safety risk is unacceptable.

"So to enhance safety and enforce our official language law
I introduced legislation this month to eliminate multi-lingual driver’s license tests and require applicants to take and pass their written and oral tests in English.

"While safety is the overriding reason for my bill, there are sound fiscal reasons too. Last year the General Assembly’s fiscal review committee found that the Department of Safety spent $64,500 just to print driver’s license study guides in Spanish. In 2008, the General Sessions Court’s language interpreter coordinator scheduled 6,838 court interpretations in the State of Tennessee and the taxpayers spent $1,058,673.96 statewide for court interpreters. Whether the actual cost is large or small, at a time of severe budget crisis it is money we simply cannot afford to spend.

"There are those who will object to my bill by saying it will discourage foreign corporations like Volkswagen from locating in Tennessee. That’s nonsense. Corporations don’t base multi-million dollar investment decisions on anything as trivial as driver’s license exams. The dozen or so managers who relocated to the U.S. when Volkswagen built its plant here all spoke fluent English. And the absence of driver’s license tests in German hardly discouraged Volkswagen.
Corporations are motivated by things like tax incentives, access to markets, transportation infrastructure, and the availability of a skilled and (English) literate workforce. And the safety of their employees on our roads is a priority for them as well.

"But the most inaccurate argument of all will be that passing my bill will make Tennessee seem “anti-immigrant.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Census data shows that immigrants who speak English fluently on average earn almost twice as much as those who don’t. Making sure that immigrants who come to Tennessee in search of a better life have real incentives to learn English, assimilate, and become self-sufficient like generations of immigrants before them is about the kindest thing we can do for them. If we keep making driver’s licenses available in some languages and not in others, where do we draw the line?
I think it is time to put public safety ahead of other considerations and start enforcing Tennessee’s official language law the way it was written. I hope my colleagues in the legislature – Republicans and Democrats – will agree.


Hamilton County Principals Say Part 1 Of TN Ready Testing Should Be Cut Due To Online System Failure; School Board May Join Request

Hamilton County principals are asking that Part 1 of the TN Ready Assessment be dropped this year due to the recent crash of the online system for the program. The principals also asked that any Part 1 TN Ready test results  not be applied to students’ grades or to evaluations and rankings for school personnel and school districts. County school board member ... (click for more)

2 Known Gang Members Arrested Thursday After Fleeing A Traffic Stop

Earlier on Thursday an officer with the Chattanooga Police Department's Neighborhood Policing Division initiated a traffic stop on a known violent criminal. The stop ended in the arrest of two validated gang members.    At the corner of Citico Avenue and North Chamberlain Avenue an officer observed a vehicle traveling southbound at a high rate of speed.  The ... (click for more)

Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Even Athletes

From reading Randy Smith's column on the lawsuit against UT it is pretty evident that he never took a legal course in his life. I was under the impression that in this country one was innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. It appears this no longer applies to athletes(particularly black athletes) in the U.S. in 2016. I have always said that if I am picked for jury duty ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Warmth For Cold Days

I come across all sorts of warm things every day and as we burrow out of sub-freezing temperatures for a day or two, shaking off ice and snow, allow me to share a few things for a change that may take the bite out of the winter wind. This is what helps me. * * * Judy Bellenfant, who has been a soul mate ever since we shared jokes in high school classrooms, sends along this ... (click for more)

Hawks Alexander, Walker Invited To NBA All-Star Weekend

Hamilton Heights Christian Academy announced today that varsity basketball players Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, both nationally ranked juniors, will take part in the NBA All-Star weekend in Toronto, Canada. Alexander has been chosen to participate in the NBA’s second Basketball without Borders Global camp. Players are selected based on their outstanding ... (click for more)

Red Bank Picked To Win Region 2-A/AA Wrestling

It appears that the Red Bank Lions will be the target for teams involved in the Region 2-A/AA wrestling tournament being held at Hixson Middle School this weekend. The Lions, fresh off Saturday's A-AA State Duals title, are the early favorites for the upcoming tournament after claiming six number-one seeds in the 14 weight classes during the seeding meeting held Wednesday at ... (click for more)