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WV lawmakers pass English language bill

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A bill that would require all official business of the state to be conducted in English was passed almost unanimously in the House during the Wednesday legislative session in Charleston.

House Bill 3019 received support from all delegates except four voting in opposition and one abstaining from voting. The final vote was 95-4.

Delegates Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, Clif Moore, D-McDowell, Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson cast votes against the bill, and Delegate Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, did not vote on the legislation.

Skinner said the bill would hurt business in the Mountain State.

“The bill would ban use of our own state motto,” Skinner said. “I voted no because it is unnecessary, and it sends the wrong message to international companies we are recruiting to come into West Virginia.”

The state motto Montani semper liberi, meaning Mountaineers are always free, is a Latin phrase.

Delegates sponsoring the bill include lead sponsor Lynwood Ireland, R-Ritchie, John Overington, R-Berkeley, Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, Tom Fast, R-Fayette, Dana Lynch, D-Webster, Mike Azinger, R-Wood, John Shott, R-Mercer, Kenneth Hicks, D-Wayne, and Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.

Overington, who has been trying to push similar legislation in past years, said he proudly sponsors the bill.

“One of the unifying things in our country is that we have one language that we use,” Overington said. “When people know the English language, they can do better, and they have a head-start. This bill encourages the use and learning of the English language.”

The bill states that all official records, documents, rules, orders and publications shall be printed in English, and all official programs conducted on behalf of the state will use the English language.

While the bill focuses primarily on the use of English in West Virginia, it features a section detailing instances when government officials and official documents could use other languages. Other languages could be used to protect public health and safety; teach or study other languages; protect the rights of criminal defendants or victims of crime; promote trade, tourism or commerce; compile a census; comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; use proper names, terms of art, legal terms or phrases in other languages; or comply with the Constitution.

“This is just to say that English is our official language,” Overington said. “It’s just to show that having a common language is a much better way for us to be able to communicate in this country. It doesn’t demonize or discourage the learning of other languages.”

Skinner said the focus in the legislature needs to shift.

“It isn’t needed,” Skinner said. “We shouldn’t be wasting our time on political bills when we need to focus on funding PEIA and creating new jobs.”

The bill has now moved to the Senate.

Other bills that passed during the Wednesday legislative session in the W.Va. House were:

HB 4209, which would change the rate of tax for health care providers, passed 98-1.

HB 4291, which would increase the penalties for teachers who commit sexual offenses against children, passed 99-0.

HB 4323, which would establish requirements for reporting emergency incidents by well and pipeline operators, pass 97-2.

HB 4347, which would provide pregnant women priority to substance abuse treatment, passed 97-2.

HB 4378, which would provide access to and receipt of certain information regarding a protected person by certain relatives of the protected person, passed 98-1.

Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.

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