According to state Sen. Jack Murphy, there are 13 languages in which someone can sit and test for their Georgia driver’s license.
For him, that is about a dozen too many. So on Tuesday, the Cumming republican revised and got approved a bill that would make English the official and only language someone can use to get their license.
Murphy, who chairs the public safety committee, said it was naturally a safety issue. Drivers who can’t read road signs pose a danger to everyone, he said.
But critics of the bill, point to the fact that illiterate Georgians are still allowed to drive and are helped with the test. But their overriding concern is that the bill is anti-immigration and stunts economic development in the state.
They even have a name for it.
The “Kia Go Home” bill, named after the South Korean automaker which builds cars here in Georgia with a sizable Korean workforce.
“This bill would tell Kia that it is okay to invest a billion dollars here in Georgia, but your employees cannot drive here,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director for the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “This is sending the wrong message and would make Georgia the only state in the country with a law like this. It is anti-immigration, anti-Latino and anti-economy development.”
SB 67 was actually a bill from the last legislative session that many thought was long dead. It passed the Senate and the House last year but lawmakers failed to agree on language before the session ended.
Tuesday’s re-appearance of the bill was a surprise since it was not listed on the Senate Rules Calendar for Day 31. Murphy said he stripped the bill of a confusing amendment the House added. It now goes back to the House, where he predicts it will pass out of.
“Look, I can’t go to France or Germany or Mexico and get a driver’s license. Yet, we give them in 13 languages here,” Murphy said. “It is amazing how many people cannot read English who are driving. You should have to have a basic understanding of English to be able to drive. And it gives them a great incentive to learn English.”
The bill impacts those who are permanent residents only. Temporary license seekers are exempt. But while Murphy said his bill targets non-English speaking people who can’t read traffic signs and emergency messages, he said the bill doesn’t account for illiterate Georgians.
“We have to make an exception and we are not going to take them off the road,” Murphy said.
So, a 70-year-old Georgia man with a 2nd grade education, who can’t read, would still be allowed to get a license because he speaks English.
“In Georgia, an illiterate person can go and have an exam administrated to him orally,” said Democrat Nan Orrock of Atlanta. “That just shows you the hostility toward people who speak another language. Immigrants learn English. We have 250 years of history that proves that. So that is a non-issue.”
Orrock debated Murphy furiously against the bill, which ultimately passed 39-11. She said the bill diminishes Georgia’s global competitiveness.
“This sends a hostile message under the banner of anti-immigration,” Orrock said. “Our governor travels at taxpayer expense to other nations seeking businesses to come here. We are speaking with a forked tongue here in Georgia, when we say we want your investment, but create a barrier to a basic tool – which is a driver’s license.”
Murphy said the bill is not designed to be against immigration and said he doubts that the state’s economy would be impacted by it.
“It is not going to hurt economic development,” Murphy said. “Nobody has approached us about it hurting economic development.”