Another English-only bill on the table in Arizona

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- If a Maricopa Republican gets his way, state publications will be printed in English, and English only.

Rep. Steve Smith sponsored HB 2283, which was passed by a House committee Tuesday. The bill excludes voting material.

"HB 2283 requires any publication or document, other than voting material, issued to the public by a state agency to be in English and requires the non-English version to only be issued online and maintained in print at the state agency office," reads the bill's overview on the Legislature's website.

It's a controversial topic -- one Arizona has dealt with before.

In 2006, voters passed Proposition 103, which amended Arizona's Constitution to make the state one of 28 to declare English their official language.

"Representatives of government in this state shall preserve, protect and enhance the role of English as the official language of the government of Arizona," read section 3A of the proposition.

"Proposition 103 would require that all official actions of the government be conducted in English," according to the legislative council's analysis. "Official actions include actions on behalf of the government that appear to present the position of the government or that bind the government."

Smith says HB 2283 will not only reinforce what was set forth in Proposition 103, but it will save money -- potentially millions -- as well.

Opponents of HB 2283 say the bill is a violation of civil rights, with one calling it "political grandstanding."

"If it were to be passed it would probably just cost the state money because of all the lawsuits that would come down the line eventually," Rep. Chad Campbell, D-District 14, said. "This bill, I think, is political grandstanding. It's really aimed at trying to target a certain population as we see many bills here lately seem to do.

"It's just unrealistic and unenforceable," he continued.

3TV tried to contact Smith, but was unable to connect with him. Smith also sponsored a bill that would require hospitals to track free care to the undocumented and another that would exempt Arizona from federal gun laws.

While HB 2283 made it past a committee, it's not clear if it has the traction to pass the full House and the full Senate. Similar measures have been shot down in the past.

Arizona has long been an English-only battleground.

In 1988, voters approved Proposition 106, by the narrowest of margins (50.5 percent to 49.5 percent), which added a broad English-only amendment -- Article XXVIII -- to the state Constitution. That measure spawned court battles that went on for years.

In commenting on Yñiguez v. Mofford, the first case, James Crawford's Language Policy Web Site & Emporium called Prop. 106 "the most restrictive Official English measure ever enacted at the state level."

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually declared that case moot.

Ten years after it was passed, the Arizona Supreme Court, hearing another case, Ruiz v. Hull, unanimously ruled Article XXVIII unconstitutional.

"We hold that the Amendment violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because it adversely impacts the constitutional rights of non-English-speaking persons with regard to their obtaining access to their government and limits the political speech of elected officials and public employees," the decision reads. "We also hold that the Amendment violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because it unduly burdens core First Amendment rights of a specific class without materially advancing a legitimate state interest."

The 2006 proposition, which passed with nearly 75 percent of the vote, replaced that article.

While English is the de facto national language of the U.S., there is no federal law declaring it so. There have been several proposals, mostly attached to immigration reform measures, to make English the official U.S. language, but none of the bills have become law with that amendment in place.