- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — A House committee yesterday began considering a bill that would make English the official language of state government.

The bill is co-sponsored by two Republican delegates from Baltimore County and has bipartisan support in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. The House Health and Government Operations Committee yesterday held a hearing on the legislation, which would require that all government business be conducted in English.

“We need to have a language in common that unites all of us together,” Mauro E. Mujica, chairman of U.S. English Inc., testified during the hearing. “It is good to speak my language … but a common language allows diversity to function.”

Mr. Mujica, who emigrated from Chile and is now a U.S. citizen, said 27 states — including Virginia — have designated English as the official language of state government, a movement for which his group lobbies.

The General Assembly has passed such legislation twice before — once in 1995, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat, vetoed the bill; and again in 1998, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening, also a Democrat, vetoed the bill.

The bill’s co-sponsors — Delegates Richard K. Impallaria and Pat McDonough — said Mr. Schaefer, currently the state comptroller, supports the bill.

“He is a popular figure in Maryland and that’s a major asset for our bill,” Mr. McDonough said.

Mr. Schaefer could not be reached for comment.

In May, the former governor publicly complained about poor service at a fast-food restaurant because of an employee’s poor English skills.

“I think it’s about time we started thinking about the people who are coming into our country, learn what English is all about,” Mr. Schaefer said during a Board of Public Works meeting. “I don’t want to adjust to another language. This is the United States. I think they ought to adjust to us.”

His comments drew criticism from immigrant advocacy groups, among others, but also evoked support from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. Mr. Ehrlich called multiculturalism “bunk” and “crap.”

Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell would not say whether the governor would sign the bill.

“The governor has not taken a position on this bill,” Mr. Fawell said. “He will reserve judgment until it reaches his desk, if it reaches his desk at all.”

Opponents of the bill testified for more than an hour yesterday, saying the legislation would discourage immigrants from moving to the state.

Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, a board member for the immigrant-rights group Casa of Maryland, said the bill would divide the state.

“This is going to put us backwards,” she said. “Why fix something that is not broken?”

Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, Montgomery County Democrat, issued a statement calling the bill an “offensive and harmful proposal.”

“It is very important that our communities come together to demonstrate our opposition to measures that would severely limit the rights and freedoms of all immigrants in Maryland,” Miss Gutierrez said. “We must not let Maryland become another Virginia or Arizona, where the civil rights of foreign-born workers, residents and citizens are violated every day.”

Mr. Impallaria and Mr. McDonough said the bill has more than 30 Republican and Democratic supporters in the House. A vote on the bill has not been scheduled.

The Health and Government Operations Committee also heard testimony on creating a task force to study whether health care workers should be required to report treating illegal aliens. A similar bill died in committee last year.

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