Topeka — Supporters of making English the official language of Kansas said Wednesday the change will encourage immigrants to assimilate.
"It would reaffirm our melting pot tradition," Ben Piper, a spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based ProEnglish, told the House Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee.
But opponents of House Bill 2140 said the measure was discriminatory, divisive and could hinder efforts by local governments to provide necessary information.
The committee took no action on the legislation, but Chairman Don Myers, R-Derby, who wrote the bill, appointed a subcommittee to work on it.
Myers said the bill was necessary to help "those who are not proficient to move in that direction."
Piper said studies show that immigrants who become proficient in English earn much more than those who don't.
But opponents said the bill was mean-spirited and unnecessary because most immigrants try to learn English as quickly as possible.
"The tone of this proposal is isolationist and narrow-minded and unfriendly," said state Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth.
The proposal would designate English as the official language of Kansas and local government entities would be required to provide information or written materials in English only. Governments would still be allowed the option of providing information in other languages.
But several officials from cities said they feared the legislation would impede their efforts in serving their communities.
"Our customers speak a variety of languages," City Manager Robert Halloran of Garden City said in written testimony. "Limiting your audience to just English in Garden City dramatically reduces the number of people you effectively serve."
Steve Cadue, chairman of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, said the measure would inhibit those who speak other languages.
"Let us genuinely embrace diversity and learn from each other," Cadue said.
He and several others asked the committee to endorse "English Plus," which emphasizes the importance of learning English while also promoting the learning of other languages.