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Montgomery Advertiser - Panel Blocks 'English only' Bills

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A state Senate committee narrowly blocked immigration-related legislation Thursday that would require the state driver's exam to be given only in English and that would emphasize "English only" documents for state government.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held a heated debate that included discussion of Alabama segregation and Nazi Germany. Then the members voted 5-4 to carry over the bills sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale.

"They killed the bills," Beason said.

The committee technically could take up the bills when it meets next week, but with only six meeting days remaining in the legislative session, they would need near unanimous support to make it through the Legislature. Proponents and opponents agreed that's not going to happen.

One bill would implement Alabama's constitutional amendment that makes English the official language. It would do that by requiring government documents to be in English unless state or federal laws or regulations required more languages.

The other bill would end the state's practice of giving the driver's exam in 14 languages and would use English only.

The two measures sparked unusually intense debate.

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said the bills reminded her of former Gov. George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent integration of the University of Alabama in 1963.

"They just smell bad. They are awful," said Figures, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

"This has nothing to do with the standing in front of the schoolhouse door," Beason told her.

He said he is trying to unify people around one language for many reasons, including promoting highway safety and helping people work together.

Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said Alabama does have problems with illegal immigration, but the bills are an overreaction to public opinion, much like "Jim Crow" laws during segregation.

"There are other numerous examples of how we have reacted and tried to appease the wishes of the majority of our constituents," Little said.

Little then cited Nazi Germany as an example, although he said he didn't mean to compare Beason's bill to the days of Adolph Hitler.

"In Nazi Germany, they felt like the Aryan race was superior, and so to promote that race, they burned all the books. ... They killed people, they murdered people to promote that race," he said.

Voting to carry over the bills were Sens. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham; Larry Means, D-Attalla; Figures and Little.

Voting against carrying over the bills were Sens. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals; Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery; Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills; and Beason.

Beason, who served as co-chairman of Alabama's recent Patriotic Immigration Commission, has a separate immigration bill that has been approved by a Senate committee and that is awaiting action by the Senate. Its many provisions include requiring workers in Alabama to carry state-issued identification.

Beason said he doesn't expect that bill to get considered by the Senate in the closing days of the session.

The immigration issue is not dead for this legislative session. A House committee has approved several bills that are awaiting consideration in the House.


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