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Georgia lawmakers push for English-only communication

The proposed constitutional amendment would make English the state's official language.

Georgia lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal to prevent the state government from issuing non-English communications, with some exceptions.

By a non-unanimous voice vote, the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday approved Sen. Joshua McKoon's proposed constitutional amendment to name English as the state's "official language." State law already contains that designation, but McKoon, a Columbus Republican, said the law is not being properly enforced and the issue needs to be cleared up by revising the state constitution.

With the exception of some issues such as public health and safety, the government should be conducting its business only in English, McKoon said. The resolution wouldn't affect the languages used by individuals or private organizations.

"This isn't infringing anyone's individual right," Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, said. "This is just how the government should do business."

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson criticized the proposal. By forcing driver's license tests to be conducted in English, non-English speakers would be discouraged from getting their license, thereby leading to a rise in uninsured drivers, the Democrat said.

"I have Clarkston in my district," Henson said. "In Clarkston High School there are 59 different languages spoken. There are a lot of things — not just in terms of public health — that you want to communicate to various populations. And putting them in different languages is a public-positive thing."

Constitutional amendments require two-thirds approval in both chambers and voters' approval in a statewide election.

An identical measure passed the Senate in 2016 but died in the House.

Democrats were quick to object to McKoon's proposal, with some arguing that socially conservative measures would not sit well at a time when the state is trying to persuade Amazon to build its second home in Atlanta.

"I guess (the committee) didn't get the memo about Amazon's CEO, whose Cuban stepfather didn't speak any English when he came America," tweeted Democratic Rep. Bee Nguyen of Atlanta.