Lawmaker accused of racism for English-only bill |

Lawmaker accused of racism for English-only bill

Associated Press Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Lobbyists Jan Gilbert, left, and Pilar Weiss talk Friday at the Legislature. They oppose a bill being considered by lawmakers that would make English the official language for state business.

Advocates praised a bill making English the official language of the state of Nevada during a state Senate hearing Friday – but critics labeled the plan as racist.

State Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, defended his SB325 during the Government Affairs Committee hearing, interrupting witnesses who criticized the measure and insisting he had no “racist intent.” He said 29 other states already have approved similar measures.

“Your proposal is racist in intent and is being proposed to divide Nevadans at the cost of the rights of Hispanic Nevadans,” Rene Cantu of the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas told Beers. Cantu added that Hispanics make up a fourth to a third of the state’s population.

John Mendoza, whose long public service career included stints as a judge, Public Utilities Commission chairman and Clark County district attorney, agreed with Cantu, telling Beers, “You’re not Hispanic and you apparently don’t understand what the Hispanics are up against in this community.”

Fernando Romero of Hispanics in Politics said the measure had constitutional flaws, adding that a better tactic would be to make English courses available to people who don’t speak English.

“Bills such as this, all they do is create hatred,” Romero added.

Matthew Santos of U.S. English Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based interest group which has pushed for such laws around the country, said the Nevada measure would only affect state government and not any business dealings. He also said it wouldn’t conflict with federal laws.

Ed Hamilton, active in Nevada’s Asian-American community, also backed Beers’ proposal, saying, “It’s a good idea to have one common language in the state government.”

Some witnesses were cut off from testifying, among them state Welfare Administrator Nancy Ford, whose prepared comments stated that under the federal Civil Rights Act a failure to help people with limited English proficiency would amount to discrimination.

Ford also stated that the state would likely be in violation of federal law if the intent of the bill is to prohibit official documents in languages other than English.

An analysis of the bill done by legislative lawyers says the bill designates English as the official state language and, with limited exceptions, requires that all official proceedings of the state be conducted in English.

The analysis also says the bill requires that all official records of the state be prepared, stored and made available in English, and requires that all official publications of the state be printed in English.