For Immediate Release Contact: Darlene Schlicher (615) 741-6336
or Kara Watkins (615) 741-1975
(NASHVILLE, TN), May 10, 2010 – A group of law enforcement officers joined forces with several lawmakers in an press conference today to urge passage of legislation that would require written drivers’ license examinations be given in English in Tennessee. The legislation, Senate Bill 63, is scheduled to be considered for final passage tonight in the State Senate as the General Assembly works to wind up their business for the 2010 legislative session.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Representative Eric Watson (R-Cleveland). The law enforcement officers said passage of the bill would alleviate safety concerns they face on the job with immigrants who live in Tennessee and drive on our roads, but do not speak English.
“It is a very real safety concern to officers that those stopped on our roads are able to listen to commands from law enforcement and understand them,” said Officer David Terrazas of the Metropolitan Police Department. “This is for the safety of both the officer and the driver.”
“As an immigrant, I am qualified to say that one of the benefits of this legislation is to encourage all immigrants, regardless of where they come from, to learn English and with that truly grasp and taste the American dream,” said Eddie Garcia.
“This is about public safety on the roads,” said Representative Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), who is also a law enforcement officer. “From a safety standpoint if they come upon a road sign, such as — road closed / bridge out or turn off radio / blasting ahead — that they read English for the safety of all concerned.”
As amended, the bill requires that all written drivers license examinations be given in English unless the person has clearance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The bill does not apply to persons whose presence in the United States has been authorized by Homeland Security for work in companies located in Tennessee through the efforts of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development in order to accommodate those nationalities with manufacturing facilities in the state. Presently, the Department of Safety provides for the written examinations to be given in Japanese, Korean and Spanish for that purpose.
“It is good policy that is currently being practiced, but it needs the force of law to ensure that we do this past this administration and the next,” said Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), the Senate sponsor. “It will also send a message to those that want to come here without the proper documentation that they will not be getting a Tennessee drivers license unless they take the test in English.”
“For those who want to come here and work and call this home, they need to assimilate and learn our language, which is English,” Ketron added. “The U.S. Department of Transportation already requires that all commercial drivers’ license tests have to be taken in English only for safety reasons. Tennessee should do the same for all drivers.”
A similar measure has passed the Senate for the last two years, but did not gain passage in the House of Representatives. Nine other states have “English only” laws.
The bill is set to be heard in the House Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday.