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Assembly passes historic Language Access Bill

August 24
22:50 2012

SACRAMENTO: In a vote hailed as a historic step forward for millions of California voters whose ability to speak and read English is limited, the state Assembly has passed SB 1233, which would require the state to translate ballot initiative petitions being circulated for signature-gathering into widely-spoken languages. The bill, which was passed by 47 to 23, now returns to the Senate for concurrence on amendments.
SB 1233 is authored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and sponsored by The Greenlining Institute. It would apply rules similar to those in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 to ballot initiative petitions.
Under the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voting, California is required to translate voting materials such as sample ballots and voter information pamphlets into nine languages, including Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. However, initiative petitions circulated in hopes of qualifying for the ballot are not covered by current law, effectively excluding at least 6 million voting-age Californians whose English is limited from helping to decide what measures reach the ballot.
“Democracy should be for everyone,” said Michelle Romero, Greenlining’s Our Democracy program director. “California speaks 200 languages, but our initiative petitions speak only one. We can bring millions of voters fully into our democratic process, and it will only cost about a penny per person.”
“This bill will help protect all of us by making it harder for signature-gatherers to mislead voters into signing a petition they don’t really understand,” said Cesar Diaz, Legislative & Political Director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council. “It’s just common sense to give all voters an equal say in deciding what goes on the ballot.”
In addition to labor, the growing coalition of SB 1233 supporters includes such good government groups as California Common Cause and Maplight.org along with civil rights organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality, and the National Council of La Raza and its California Affiliate Network.

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