English would be the only language for a driver’s license exam in Georgia under a bill that passed the Senate Tuesday.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming) said the rule is needed for safety on the highway. The measure passed 37 to 14 and still needs to pass the House before it could be signed into law.
Murphy displayed road signs in the Senate chamber from foreign countries in foreign languages.
“I’m just trying to show a comparison between you driving in that country and someone who doesn’t understand English driving in our country,” Murphy told his colleagues.
“People need to be able to drive safely on our roads and read overhead signs,” Murphy said.
Opponents of Senate Bill 67 said it would be discriminatory against those not proficient in English. It would allow a driver’s license official to read the test to illiterate Georgians who can’t read street signs in any language, but would require foreigners who read another language to take the written exam in English.
The bill only applies to immigrants who are permanent residents of the United States who intend to stay here indefinitely. It does not apply to foreign visitors who come for short periods of time to visit or work.
Georgia offers driver’s license exams in English and about a dozen other languages.
About 5,000 people per month opt for one of the other languages, said Lester Hammond, director of legislative affairs for the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
The most popular languages aside from English are, Spanish, Japanese and Korean, in that order, Hammond said. Many people ask for the exam in Hindi, but the department doesn’t offer it, he said.
Supporters of the bill argued at a hearing before a Senate committee last month that permanent residents in the United States should speak English.
D.A. King, president of the Dustin Inman Society, an anti-illegal immigration group, spoke in favor of the bill, saying it’s necessary for public safety.
He also mentioned the biblical Tower of Babel, and said those who want to give the exam in many languages are in favor of “tearing the country apart and creating chaos.”
During the Senate debate Tuesday Sen. George Hooks (D-Americus) expressed concern that peach and cotton farms would be negatively affected because their workforce would not be able to get driver’s licenses to drive farm trucks.
“We are totally and completely dependent on migrant labor,” Hooks said of his region of the state.
Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland) was one of the few Republicans to vote against the bill. He represents the Fort Benning area, which has a huge population of military personnel.
Many Latin Americans attend the U.S. Army School of the Americas there, Harp said. He did not want to make it more difficult for visiting military to get a driver’s license, he said.