Missouri Lawmakers OKs English as Official Language of Government

A proposal to require official government proceedings to be conducted in English won approval Friday in the Senate.

The proposed constitutional amendment passed the House in February but ran into trouble from opponents in the Senate.

Friday afternoon, Senate Republicans used a procedural step to shut off debate and forced the matter to a vote. It passed 25-7, but returned to the House, which had to agree to the Senate's wording changes by the Legislature's 6 p.m. adjournment.

If the House also passes the measure, voters would consider it, likely in November 2008.

Missouri law already makes English the state's "common language." But supporters want the state constitution changed to ensure that government decisions are not made in other languages.

When he brought the bill up for debate earlier this week, Senate handler Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, attempted to speak German as he introduced it.

Engler, who does not speak German, later handed out translations of his remarks.

"If we're going to ask people to come to this country and succeed they need to learn the language," Engler said. "This does not say they can't be proud of their heritage. Official government proceedings should be done in English."

Opponents say there's no concern about government business being handled in foreign languages in Missouri. They worry the proposal makes the state appear hostile toward immigrants trying to build a life here and is really just an effort to drive Republicans to the polls.

"I have never met an immigrant who doesn't want to learn the English language," said Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City. "It is bad policy of this state to run around fixing problems that don't really exist."

The motion Friday to halt debate and immediately vote marked just the 10th bill on which the procedural maneuver has been successfully used in the Senate since 1970 — with six of those coming since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2001, including two on Friday.