By Miki Meek
Some city governments say business will continue as usual after the initiative to make English Utah’s official language passed on Election Day.
Seventy-four percent of voters were in favor of the initiative, and 25.33 percent opposed it.
Provo Mayor Lewis Billings and Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn said the new law, which requires all state and local government to be conducted in English, will not have a significant impact because both cities already operate most of their procedures in English.
Provo and Orem have never struggled communicating with their non-English speaking population because they are a smaller segment of the community, and several city employees speak a second language, said Billings and Washburn. Language services will continue to be offered as they fit into exceptions of the law, which include health and safety needs, economic development, court proceedings, tourism and the Olympics.
Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey says he plans to use these broad exceptions to the city’s advantage.
“We will make every effort to comply with the law, but at the end of the day we still need to communicate with our people,” he said.
The city will continue to print its newsletter and other community-geared publications in Spanish, spend money for advertising in Spanish newspapers and radio stations and offer translators, Godfrey said.
“We will try to make this have no impact because when we do things in two languages, we do it for a reason. It’s a return on investment,” Godfrey said. “We want those who do not speak English well to understand our ordinances, we want them to be a part of our community, to get involved and to be informed about city occasions and health issues.”
However, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson interprets the law differently and says the exceptions are still not adequate enough to allow city government to communicate efficiently with the immigrant population. He is contemplating becoming a plaintiff in a lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union may file in the upcoming weeks against the state for free speech and equal protection violations.
“The passage of this initiative is the result of destructive jingoism or, in many instances, ignorance,” he said. “It’s an outrage, mean-hearted and punishes those who have the audacity and courage to come to this country without knowing the language first.”
The English-only law will stop Salt Lake City from developing and producing materials in other languages about cultural and legal differences that the non-English population may not be aware of, Anderson said.
“Not communicating with them in their own language means we aren’t going to be able to communicate with them period.”
He also said that eliminating printing costs and some translating services would not save the city a significant amount of money to provide staff training or facilities for immigrants to learn English.
Data collected from all state and local government agencies indicated that the highest savings would be incurred from the courts at $6,500, said Michael Kjar, deputy director of the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst. Total state-wide savings were estimated at $20,000.
Although the gains will not be obvious immediately, the bottom line is not about saving money but where that money is spent, said Tim Schultz, spokesman for U.S. English, an educational and lobbying group based in Washington D.C. When the Utah legislative session begins, the group will urge legislators to appropriate more money for English classes.
“The idea of this law isn’t to make radical changes in Utah but rather to prevent the state from mirroring a national trend of providing services in multiple languages,” he said. “We want immigrants to speak English, and believe that people should speak as many possible languages as they can speak, but for the government they ought to communicate in English.”
Schultz said U.S. English and others involved in the three-year effort to make English Utah’s official language are pleased and congratulated voters for making the right choice. The group gathered 74,656 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot and spent more than $117,000 campaigning.
The law will go into effect a few days after the governor’s official proclamation Nov. 27, said Bill Evans, chief of staff for the attorney general’s Office. Questions of how and who will enforce it still loom because the statute does provide an enforcement or penalty mechanism. The attorney general’s Office will be able to address these issues on a case-by-case basis.