2/9 HB 72 “English Only” Driver License Testing Fails before Georgia House

by Erik Voss

Atlanta – Today before the Georgia House, a bill was up for debate and a vote, which would have reduced the ability of current and new legal residents, legal immigrants, and permanent residents of Georgia, to take the theoretical written portion of the regular operators driver license test in any choice of  14 languages, and reduce that to one requirement: English Only.

This bill, House Bill (HB) 72 2001 was tabled by the Georgia House, thus failing.  It is not likely to make it to the House floor again as intended this year.

The bill was, by the author’s own promotion, only targeting persons already properly documented and otherwise qualified to received a Georgia license.  Thus, HB 72 was considered by many to be an anti-immigrant bill, having the effect of endangering Georgia’s competitive position in global business and the world economy.  It also is considered by many of having the unintended effect of representing Georgia as no longer welcoming to internationals for doing business in of moving here to expand their businesses to the state.

After introduction of HB 72 for debate on the House floor, the author, Rep. James Mills (R), took various critical questions, being forced to defend and clarify his intent.  Members were able to consider the various repercussions and likely consequences throughout this debate.

A clear majority of House representatives who rose to speak on HB 72 bill spoke in opposition to it, and it was clearly a non-partisan makeup of such speakers.

Rep. Wendell Willard (R), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed his deep concern about how this ‘English Only’ would effect Georgia’s ability to compete for international business, echoing concerns made previously by Georgia’s State Commissioner of Economic Development, Chris Cummiskey, who had said, in essence, that Georgia could not risk the potential international business backlash.

Rep. Yasmin Neal (D) who in a previous positions was employed to perform the actual administration of all the various parts of driver license testing in Georgia, said that the bill was not needed for safety.  She believed that the current driver license testing in Georgia is sufficient to weed out non-safe drivers.  However, she did add that it would be important to update the English ‘Traffic Signage’ portion of the test with all the newer types of signs in Georgia.

In a humorous anecdote, another Rep. Scott Holcomb (R), who comes from the military background, recounted how knowing English clearly did not prevent a person from making dangerous driving mistakes.  He recounted a close call as a visiting British military commander was driving on the wrong, left, side of the road almost causing and accident.

Several amendments were introduced of the floor.  The first two amendments failed.

Rep. Mills, the author of the bill, had recommended previous to the vote on amendments, a ‘No’ vote on all — all amendments, he believed, were intended to effectively ‘gut’ the intent of the bill.

Then a third amendment, by Rep. BJ Pak (R) was successful.

The newly adopted amendment failed a motion for reconsideration,  a motion made by none other than author of the bill Mills himself, who complained that the amendment that had passed ‘effectively gutted his bill’ and his intent for ‘English Only’ driver license testing in Georgia.

The so called ‘Pak Amendment’ added two changes to HB 72.   First, it would add testing for common words used on electronic information signs to satisfy the concerns that those taking the ‘Traffic Sign’ portion of test were able to interpret such signs, and second, it would maintain existing written theory portion of the test in a choice of 14 languages, leaving that portion of test intact … i.e. no English driving knowledge test.

Immediately after the successful ‘Pak Amendment,’ the now amended bill was quickly tabled by significant margin, sending it back before the GA House Public Safety Committee.   In essence, it is now seen by many experts as unlikely to gain sufficient support again to by being voted ‘off the table’ and be brought back to the House floor.

“In these challenging economic times, Georgia should continue to do everything  to maintain public safety, but be competitive and welcoming as part of a global market place,”  concluded representative Pedro Marin (D).

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