Virginia legislation to limit drivers’ tests to English-only dies

| 3/11/2008

A failed effort in Virginia was intended to help ensure that people issued driver’s licenses in the state understand English. Another failed effort sought to designate English as the official language in the state.

State figures show that 864,000 residents don’t speak English, and of those people 44 percent speak Spanish. Those numbers are expected to increase by 30 percent during the next eight years, reported.

The House Rules Committee opted to hold off on consideration of the English-only licensing bill until the 2009 regular session.

Sponsored by Delegate Daniel Marshall III, R-Danville, the measure – HB376 – would have required all driver’s license exams in the state to be conducted exclusively in English. It also sought to prohibit the Department of Motor Vehicles from supplying or permitting the use of interpreters to help with the exams.

Virginia law now allows driver’s license applicants to take the written and driving portions of the exam in Spanish. Aspiring truckers and motorists also are allowed to use interpreters; they are even allowed to bring their own interpreters if the Department of Motor Vehicles can’t provide someone who speaks their language. Applicants can also have the test read to them if they can speak English, but are unable to read or write, reported.

Supporters said restrictions are needed to help ensure that aspiring truckers and other drivers have a firm grasp of the English language before they obtain their license to drive. They also point out that federal regulations require CDL applicants to be able to read and speak English sufficiently.

Opponents said there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers. Others said there are more pressing issues to address in the state.

The House Rules Committee failed to advance another bill that would have gone one step further to encourage immigrants to learn the English language. The bill – HB55 – remained in committee at the deadline to advance to the House floor, effectively killing it for the year.

Sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, the bill sought to require all government-written communication, including Web sites and official documents, to be in English only.

Exceptions would have been made for court and police documents, health care materials and schools.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor