Taneytown to discuss official-language bill

Measure to require English for city's business draws fire

November 08, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

A proposal to make the small Carroll County city of Taneytown the first in Maryland with English as its official language has drawn fire from critics who say it might violate state law.

The resolution, scheduled for discussion by the City Council tonight and possibly for a vote Monday, was submitted by Councilman Paul Chamberlain Jr. It would require all city government business to be conducted in English.

"Most people are not aware that English isn't the official language of the United States," Chamberlain said yesterday. "They are shocked to find out it's not. And legal immigrants are even more adamant about English as the official language than your average American."

According to Jim Peck, director of research for the Maryland Municipal League, no other cities or towns in the state have implemented such a measure.

But Chamberlain's resolution might run into legal trouble.

Ricardo Flores, public policy director for the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, said the resolution could violate a 2002 law that requires all state agencies to provide interpreters and to translate crucial documents into any language spoken by 3 percent of the population served.

Flores and an attorney from the immigrants-rights group Casa de Maryland plan to attend a Taneytown City Council workshop on the measure tonight.

"We believe the town ordinance may in fact be pre-empted by state law," Flores said. "It may be illegal on those grounds."

Taneytown's proposal follows the July passage of a law in Hazelton, Pa., that seeks to make English the official language.

Such a measure has no place in Taneytown, said Councilman James L. McCarron. In his 23 years on the council, McCarron said no one has ever come forward with a comment or complaint who didn't speak English.

"The thing that irritates me is that we've wasted so much time discussing this issue already, when we could have been talking about things that really mattered to the citizens of Taneytown," McCarron said.

About 1.5 percent of Taneytown's more than 5,000 residents described themselves as Hispanic or Latino in the 2000 U.S. census. And only 37 Taneytown residents said that they spoke English less than "very well," according to those census figures.

The proclamation could be voted on at the council's meeting Monday night, but a related "English Language Unity" ordinance would require a 60-day waiting period, Mayor W. Robert Flickinger said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has submitted a letter to Taneytown's mayor and council, urging them not to adopt the resolution.

"We think it's a bad policy, based on some unfound premises and is potentially unconstitutional," said Cindy Boersma, legislative director for the ACLU of Maryland.

Ten years of attempts to make English the official language of Maryland began in 1983 and failed to pass in the General Assembly. In 1994, the state legislature passed such a bill, which was vetoed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Gov. Parris N. Glendening vetoed a similar bill in 1995.

Later efforts never reached the governor's desk, including a 1998 bill co-sponsored by then-Del. David R. Brinkley -- now a state senator.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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