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GOP resurrects bill to make English official language in Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

MADISON — Republican lawmakers have resurrected a bill that would make English the official language in Wisconsin, renewing their argument that the measure will push immigrants to learn the language and make them more attractive to employers.

Sens. Andre Jacque, Dave Craig, and Steve Nass began circulating the bill for co-sponsors Monday. The trio is among the most conservative members of the Republican majority.

The proposal would declare English as Wisconsin’s official language and require all state and local government officials to write all their documents in English. The bill would allow the use of other languages in certain situations, including to protect a citizen’s health or safety, to teach another language, to facilitate census counts and to protect criminal defendants’ rights. The measure wouldn’t restrict the use of other languages for non-governmental purposes.

The senators wrote in a memo to their colleagues seeking co-sponsors that English is vital to American society and immigrants’ job prospects improve dramatically if they can use the language.

Thirty-two other states, including neighboring Illinois and Iowa, have declared English as their official language, according to U.S. English, a citizen group that works to preserve the language in the country.

Aides for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to emails inquiring about the bill’s chances. The clock is already ticking; with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers poised to veto any major GOP initiatives, Vos and Fitzgerald are expected to convene only a handful of floor periods before the 2019-20 session ends this spring.

Jacque and Craig introduced the bill in 2013 when they were both in the state Assembly. They sounded the same arguments then about how knowing English would open doors for immigrants. Republicans controlled the Legislature then but the bill didn’t get so much as a hearing.

Former state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat, introduced the bill in 2009 and got several Republicans to sign on as co-sponsors but Democrats controlled the Legislature that session and the proposal never got a hearing.

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