JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri driving tests would be administered only in English under a bill given first-round approval on Wednesday by the Missouri House of Representatives.
Currently, the driving test can be taken in 12 languages, including English.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, said the bill would make Missouri roads safer by requiring the driving test to be administered in the same language that appears on street signs.
"At the highway speeds, people need to understand what the signs written in English say, really quickly," Nolte said in a previous interview about his bill.
The Democratic floor leader, Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, disagreed.
"A stop sign is a stop sign is a stop sign," Talboy said.
Nolte also said his bill would save the state from lawsuits for not offering tests in certain languages other than English. Nolte said the state of Oklahoma was sued in 2007 for not offering a test in Farsi.
"We would be saving ourselves from liability," Nolte said.
Talboy said he wasn't buying the argument.
"We are fearing a lawsuit that hasn't happened yet. ... This would be a ruse," Talboy said.
Some lawmakers expressed concern that the bill would deprive immigrants of necessary means to get to work.
"This seems counterintuitive. ... This is not only insulting but cruel," Talboy said.
"Driving is a privilege, not a right," Nolte said.
Opponents said the bill would strip the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which administers the driving test, of its autonomy.
Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said that 10,000 driving tests were administered in a language other than English last year. Of those tests, Lampe said only 3,000 test-takers were given their driver's license.
"We need to trust the guys in the uniform. ... (This bill) would be in slap in the face to Highway Patrol," Lampe said.
The House also discussed an abortion bill that would prohibit late-term abortion in Missouri. The House took no action on the bill Wednesday and will take it up at a later session.
The English-only driving bill needs another vote of approval from the House before moving to the Senate.