Two similar bills would ensure that English is the language of state government, and that polices don’t show preference for any language other than English. State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) says her bill (HB 361) would not force people to speak English, or outlaw any other languages. “I consider my bill to be an encouragement… It’s encouraging those who come into the country legally, and want to function here, to learn English,” Swanger says. “How could you function in a state where you couldn’t understand anything, you couldn’t read anything? It just seems to me it’s very cruel that we don’t make more of an effort to get people to learn English and assimilate into our society.”
State Rep. Scott Perry (R-York) adds that by nixing all documentation and services provided in other languages, the state could save considerable money. Perry sponsored the second bill (HB 888) knowing that polls show public support for making English the official language of the Commonwealth. “People have their different reasons: whether it’s cultural, whether it’s for safety reasons or financial reasons, and some people have all of those reasons in mind.”
The two bills were the subject of a near three hour hearing, Wednesday, in front of the House State Government Committee. Executive director of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, Anne O’Callaghan, testified that the bills were both unnecessary and unwise. “Passing these bills would announce to the world that Pennsylvania is more concerned with shutting people out than with incorporating them into our society,” O’Callaghan explained.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania called it the theater of the absurd. “The burden is on the supporters of these bills to prove why they’re needed and to prove that English is in some kind of danger,” says ACLU of PA legislative director Andy Hoover.