Amendment 1 would make English official language for government meetings

Sunday, October 26, 2008 | 8:30 p.m. CDT; updated 12:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 28, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — One of this year's Missouri ballot measures, Constitutional Amendment 1, would make English the official language of government proceedings but would leave translation services unchanged.

Opponents of the amendment contend it is unnecessary and that it sends the message that Missouri does not welcome immigrants. Proponents say it would cause no harm to immigrant groups and would protect constituents by ensuring thatcitizens can understand government proceedings.

Amendment 1 ballot language

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to add a statement that English shall be the language of all governmental meetings at which any public business is discussed, decided, or public policy is formulated whether conducted in person or by communication equipment including conference calls, video conferences, or Internet chat or message board?

It is estimated this proposal will have no costs or savings to state or local governmental entities.

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Under the language of the amendment, a government proceeding includes any meeting, conference call, video conference, Internet chat or message board where public business is discussed.

State Rep. Brian Nieves, R-Union, sponsored the amendment. He said it does not target the immigrant community and that he embraces legal immigration.

"This is a completely, absolutely benign amendment," he said. "It does absolutely nothing unless they have the intention of conducting official government business in a language other than English."

Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, said the amendment is a pre-emptive measure that will keep government transparent.

"If we were to conduct our committee meeting in, let's say, German, that would not be conducive to open government that the population can properly understand and make good judgments as to how we're serving them," Nolte said. "I would say that the target is to make sure we have open government that is readily understood by the population and then they can keep their eye on it."

However, one of the state's leading organizations for immigrant rights — Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates — opposes the measure.

"We feel it would limit people to participate in our communities," said Jennifer Rafanan, executive director of the advocacy group. "Why amend our Constitution to make it less welcoming?"

The coalition argues that the amendment has no practical use because there is no danger of government meetings in Missouri being carried out in a language other than English.

Rafanan said most immigrants want to learn English, but there are not enough English language courses for adults to satisfy the demand.

Tony Rothert, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in eastern Missouri, said the ACLU opposes the amendment because its vague definition of government proceedings could cause First Amendment violations.

"If people start interpreting ‘meeting’ to mean any meeting between a public official or constituent or court proceedings or administrative hearings or e-mail messages sent by public officials — if they start interpreting it broadly — then that's when it starts to really affect people and when it would run afoul of the First Amendment," Rothert said.

Rafanan said that since the bill was originally drafted, the definition of a government proceeding has been narrowed. She hopes it would be enough to prevent discrimination.

"I think the amendment is drawn in a narrow fashion that hopefully it won't keep people from petitioning government," she said.

Rothert said the amendment preys on public fears of illegal immigrants and is bad public policy.

"The message of this amendment for immigrants is that Missouri is not a place where you're welcome," he said.

State Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, who opposes the amendment, said it’s a good election issue, but it fails to address any serious matter that Missourians are actually facing.

"The majority of people are going to say, 'Hey listen, my neighbor or I am in danger of losing our house. My company is downsizing. I can't send my child to the college I want because tuition has gotten too expensive,'" he said. "Why are we talking about English-only when in reality it's not going to do anything but be a negative?"

On the other side, Nieves said immigrant-rights organizations are raising worries about the amendment that are unjustified, and that the amendment has no connection with the English-only movement or immigration.

"They believe if they can keep racial tensions high, they can justify their existence," he said. "They lied to the immigrant community to use them as pawns."

Rafanan said Nieves' statements were baffling because her organization is not actively campaigning against the amendment.

"We aren't drumming up racial tension," she said. "There are people across the board who oppose this amendment."

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Dave F October 26, 2008 | 8:43 p.m.

All 'Sanctuary city, counties & States' should be held accountable and the pro-illegal immigration special interest behind it. File a 'CLASS ACTION' lawsuit in Federal Court. Because these locations are aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

If I was a wealthy person, a pro-sovereignty, anti-illegal immigrant attorney, I'd go after the Governors, Mayors and elected officials, employers who get caught. They are traitors to the true AMERICAN PEOPLE. The real citizens and the immigrants who waited for years patiently to come here.

It cost's $240.00 in my state to file a federal court case. Find an honest attorney and get the ball rolling. I for one will add my name to any judicial complaint. After that, millions of taxpayers will join in...? In San Francisco, a citizen filed a lawsuit and won against overwhelmingly odds, against the Liberal local government, against the ACLU, against the La Raza and all the other pro-illegal alien zealots.

Some Americans don't cower in a dark corner, when the word 'Racist' is yelled-out!

Incidentally, there is an estimated 37 million according to the Tucson sector Border Patrol union local 2544 (with an additional half-million coming every year) a massive financial impact on our economy by importing the worlds poor.

2. The Americans who are losing jobs to cheap immigrant labor. In a 1996 study, a Rice University economist estimated that illegal aliens were then displacing 730,000 American workers a year.

3. The costs to taxpayer for welfare, emergency medical services, education, law enforcement and incarceration for "illegal immigrants" and their dependents -and thousands of State, county welfare is estimated at more than a Trillion dollars.

4. The opportunities for terrorists to spend some time in Mexico, learn Spanish and infiltrate our borders.

The border fence has never built to original planned because the Democrats in a secret session, gutted funding.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 26, 2008 | 10:15 p.m.

Until someone can show me an actual Missouri government meeting or hearing held in a language other than English, I plan to vote no on this amendment.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 27, 2008 | 4:33 a.m.

Illegal immigrants cost our country so much money every year and that is why our health care,social services and other agencies are so over loaded.

There is nothing wrong with English as a "primary language" in our country and yes all people who choose to live here should learn it just as if you moved to another country you would have to learn theirs.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 27, 2008 | 11:04 a.m.

I believe there is already a state law that is essentially identical to this constitutional amendment. I am getting tired of seeing our state constitution amended, or attempt to be amended, every two years, especially when there is no apparent need to do so.

(Report Comment)
Lane Wilson October 27, 2008 | 3:22 p.m.

Placing restrictions on the way our government can communicate to its people seems both unnecessary and unwelcoming. Not passing this proposition is hardly a threat to our national or state security.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro October 27, 2008 | 11:50 p.m.

If a "clarification" ammendment ensures English as the "official" language than we should proceed with it.
Non-English speaking citizens would have access to translation services until they can understand and speak in the "official" language of this land.
Illegal invaders from foreign countries can go back to where they came from. Legal immigrants are welcome to assimmilate.

(Report Comment)

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