English Only, House Says

August 2, 1996

English Only, House Says

By a 259-169 vote, the House Thursday approved a measure that would make English the official language of the federal government.

House members debated the measure for the better part of the day, although with somewhat less rancor than in previous debates on the issue.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., is based on legislation by the late Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo., and House International Relations International Economic Policy and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Toby Roth, R-Wis., although there is bipartisan agreement that Cunningham considerably softened the original language.

Republicans, including Cunningham, contend the bill would better enable language-minority residents and citizens of the United States to attain the "American Dream." Supporters say better English skills translate into better paying jobs.

House Democratic leaders Thursday said President Clinton would veto the bill if it reaches his desk. The measure faces a difficult battle in the Senate.

Under the legislation, savings generated by the bill are to be used to teach English to language-minority immigrants, according to a statement from Cunningham's office.

Cunningham's measure also requires most federal documents to be printed only in English, with exceptions for those involving national security, trade, public health and safety, and the rights of crime victims or criminal defendants.

States would have the option of printing election ballots in languages other than English, but would not be required to do so under federal law.

Federal officials, including members of Congress, would be free to communicate orally in languages other than English with constituents or others seeking information or services.

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