Insider Advantage led me to a particular bill that has been pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session. Its designation is Senate Bill 335 (SB 335). It is an amendment to the “English as the Official Language of Georgia” Act passed last year. The bill is sponsored by State Senator John Douglas (R-Social Circle), known by many to be one of the most staunchly conservative members of the State Senate.
Senate Bill 335, however, is anything but “conservative.” According to the text of the legislation, this bill would prohibit a state agency or political subdivision of the state from requiring an employee to speak or learn any language other than English in order to maintain employment or attain promotion.
According to the bill’s sponsor, SB 335 was created in reaction to a certain Northwest Georgia police department requiring 80 hours of Spanish training to be eligible for promotion. Senator Douglas said he recommended that the city do not make this a requirement, but his request was declined. This bill, according to the Senator, should “jog the memory” of the city manager that English is the official language of Georgia.
At first glance, SB 335 appears to be more of a “house-keeping” bill than anything potentially earth-shattering. Yet when you consider the legislative intent of the sponsor and the potential ramifications of this bill’s passage, the bill stands out as anything but benign.
If we take the Senator at his word and take the text of the legislation at face value, two glaring issues immediately arise:
First is the issue of local control. Local control seems to be a hard issue for Republicans to grasp lately. Local governments and police officers on the ground generally know better than state-level politicians about what is needed to effectively enforce the laws in their areas. Whether the State Senate wants to acknowledge it or not, there are areas in this state with extremely large Spanish-speaking populations. Local governments across the country have already taken action to insure that their officers are equipped to enforce the laws effectively with these populations. Why would the State Senate want to tie the hands of the officers on the ground and the local governments that actually have to deal with the issue on a daily basis?
Police officers are required to take firearms training, in order to more effectively use their weapons. They are required to attend mandate school in order to learn about the law, a person’s rights, and how to apply the law. These courses are required for promotion. Should the legislature be able to get rid of them? If not, then why is it a problem if a local jurisdiction with a large Spanish-speaking population requires its officers to attend an 80-hour introductory Spanish course?
Second is the issue of putting police officers at risk. By prohibiting the requirement of foreign-language training, SB 335 potentially puts police officers at greater risk. By having at least a working-knowledge of Spanish, officers are better-equipped to deescalate a potentially life-threatening situation that could arise with a non-English speaker. Not to mention, a working-knowledge of Spanish can also help the officer get through the day-to-day tasks like traffic stops, reading Miranda Rights, interviewing or collecting information from a Spanish-speaking victim, and conducting DUI tests with greater ease.
The Georgia Supreme Court did rule that officers are not required to carry out any of these tasks in any language but English, but having some background in basic oral communication can make the enforcement of the law more efficient.
I want to go back to one more thing the Senator said in regards to this legislation. “I guess the point here is, if you are going to break the law, know enough English to understand the legal procedures going on around you.” I’m sure they will take that gem to heart, Senator.
In all fairness, Senator Douglas has been a “pro-law enforcement” type of Senator. He has sponsored numerous bills that would help strengthen our State’s policing abilities. That is one of the reasons I am perplexed as to why he personally would sponsor a bill that could potentially get a policeman killed. I know the Senator is against illegal immigration and is all uber-American, but this bill will do nothing to curtail illegal immigration. It will do nothing to strengthen our English-speaking heritage. And it will do nothing in the way of strengthening our law enforcement capabilities.
In short, there is no issue that this bill will solve. It’s merely a visceral reaction to some kind of wrong-headed idea that requiring police officers to learn Spanish in order to be more effective is somehow an endorsement of illegal immigration itself. It’s a big-government solution looking for a problem.