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Voters To Decide on English in Utah

October 5, 2000

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Utah may welcome the world during the 2002 Winter Olympics, but backers of an official English ballot measure want to keep foreign languages out of the state’s business.

Under a proposal before voters Nov. 7, state and local agencies would be prohibited _ with some exceptions _ from conducting government business or printing information in any language except English.

Polls suggest the measure will pass.

At least 20 states designate English the official language of government. Many such laws are symbolic and don’t prevent the government from using other tongues.

Opponents insist the official-language efforts would make many tasks impossible for new immigrants. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson calls it ``blatantly racist.″

``I think it’s very, very unfriendly and not at all compassionate to those who can use help before they can speak English fluently,″ the mayor said. ``The ironic thing is they talk about creating more unity, and there is probably nothing so racially divisive right now as this movement.″

The Utah measure, Initiative A, comes as more immigrants are drawn to the area by a bustling economy. The newcomers include many Spanish speakers, and Asian and Pacific Islanders.

Latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates put the Hispanic population at 7 percent, or about 150,700 _ a 78 percent jump from a decade ago. Asians and Pacific Islanders number 55,000, barely 3 percent of the state, but a 60 percent increase from a decade ago.

For three years, lawmakers rejected English-only bills offered by state Rep. Tammy Rowan. So the Republican lawmaker turned to voters. Among other things, she said, the measure would prod immigrants to learn the English language sooner.

``If we don’t do everything we can to have people learn English, we’re going to end up like Canada or worse,″ Rowan said. Canada’s language laws require a vast array of documents, services and signs _ even food labels _ to be in both French and English.

Bankrolling Rowan’s effort is U.S. English, a Washington-based advocacy group. The organization has already spent more than $117,000 to get the measure on the ballot and expects to spend another $30,000 before the election, said chairman Mauro Mujica.

``It’s like preaching to the choir,″ Mujica said. ``We feel that all we have to do in Utah is to remind people to vote.″

The proposal lists a number of situations in which foreign languages would be acceptable, including court cases where translation is necessary and when the public’s health or safety is at issue. It also exempts tourism, including the 2002 Winter Olympics.

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On the Net:

Utah ballot initiatives: http://governor.state.ut.us/lt_gover/initiative3.htm

U.S. English: http://www.us-english.org

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