Two days after the end of the legislative session, state lawmakers are discovering something few were aware of: They voted to make English the official language of West Virginia.
The language amendment was quietly inserted into a bill addressing the number of members that cities can appoint to boards of parks and recreation. Among mundane details about record-keeping, the amendment adds the provision that “English shall be the official language of the State of West Virginia.”
Senate Majority Whip Billy Wayne Bailey successfully offered that change to House Bill 2782 amid a flurry of bills moving back and forth between the House and Senate on Saturday, the last night of the 60-day legislative session.
“I just told the members that the amendment clarifies the way in which documents are produced,” Bailey, a Democrat, said Monday.
House Majority Leader Rick Staton recommended that his chamber agree with the Senate’s changes. But Staton, also a Democrat, said he was unaware of the substance of the amendment until asked about it by the Associated Press Monday evening.
Efforts to make English the state’s official language have been introduced annually since the late 1990s. A group called U.S. English has championed the cause.
“I think it’s wrong that’s something like that was snuck into that bill in the last minute,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores, who helped kill an earlier proposal to forbid any state or local agency from having to print documents in any language but English.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin could not immediately be reached for comment.
Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said English-only laws are based on the false premise that immigrants will not learn English without government coercion.
“And English-only laws do nothing constructive to increase English proficiency. They simply discriminate and punish those who have not yet learned English,” Schneider said.