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State bill seeks to protect languages

April 1, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
It started with South Korean golfers and a controversial Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) rule. But a state lawmaker says his bill on foreign language in the workplace would send a message on discrimination to every business and group in California.Because the English-only policy was seen as being discriminatory against the Korean players, the LPGA backed down shortly after the uproar last summer.

To make sure that doesn't happen again, Calif. State Senator Leland Yee wants to include the word "language" as a protected characteristic under the Jesse Unruh Civil Rights Act, adding to protections for race, sex, religion and other categories.

"All of us should learn English and we should speak English," said St. Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). "But no one should force us to use English. And that is the basis of whether or not we going to get served."

That means business-owners in diverse California cannot force anyone who's not an employee to speak English just because the owner doesn't like it.

"I understand that some people are discriminated against because of the way they speak, or being unable to speak English," said Meredith Turney, Capitol Resource Family Impact. "But once again, this is more nanny government and more government trying to tell businesses what do."

Over at Tony's Deli, a popular sandwich shop near the Capitol, the owner supports allowing anyone at his shop to speak any language -- customers, employees, and workers hired by outside contractors. But he's not sure that should be regulated.

"You don't need to have a law," said Elias Silhi, Tony's owner. "It's all common sense. God bless you. There's other more important issues to be dealing with, instead of dealing with somebody speaking a different language."

Senator Yee says the numerous anti-immigrant voicemails and e-mails he's received are proof his proposal is needed.

The full state Senate is expected to vote on the proposal later this month. If it becomes law and the LPGA decided to reinstate its English-only rule, the association would not be able to hold tournaments in California.


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