Topeka Several Kansas lawmakers on Tuesday said they reached a bipartisan compromise on a divisive subject: making English the official state language.
House Bill 2140 was recommended for approval by the House Committee on Veterans, Military and Homeland Security.
"English is the common language of Kansas, and this bill affirms that by not unnecessarily interfering with state agencies' or localities' essential communications in other languages," Chairman Don Myers, R-Derby, said.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Candy Ruff of Leavenworth, also supported the bill, saying it was improved since it was first introduced.
"In no way does this bill limit or denigrate the use of any other language by a tribal government or any immigrant who chooses to live and work in Kansas," Ruff said.
The measure designates that English is the official language of Kansas.
Originally, Myers' bill said no governmental entity was required to provide written materials in languages other than English unless it was needed in certain circumstances, such as to protect the public's health or in legal proceedings.
The changed bill keeps that provision but also makes clear that no governmental entity shall be prohibited from publishing records and documents in languages other than English.
The new version also urges the state education department to assist non-native speakers in finding English language classes.
English as Kansas' official language
"As a person who can say that English is my second language, this legislation encourages those who are not proficient to become fluent," said Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, and vice chairman of the committee.
But several lawmakers continued to oppose the measure, saying it was unnecessary.
"I don't see the need for it," said Rep. Eber Phelps, D-Hays.
Phelps said there was no evidence that the English language "was under attack" or that similar "Official English" laws in other states increased English proficiency.
He also said most communities with large immigrant populations already were working on assisting them to learn English.
In addition, he said, the committee had more important issues to deal with concerning returning military veterans.
The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.