Tuesday, 16 June 2015 18:38

Bill introduced to repeal Frederick County's English-only ordinance Featured

Written by  Kelsi Loos, Reporter, Frederick News-Post
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Two members of the Frederick County Council are working to repeal an ordinance passed in 2012 that required that all of the county's official business be conducted in English.

The two members, Jessica Fitzwater and M.C. Keegan-Ayer, say the 3-year-old ordinance is ineffective and sends a message of intolerance to country residents from diverse backgrounds and to businesses that may want to operate here.

Dropping the ordinance, the two women said, would create a more welcoming environment for potential employers and newcomers to the county. They introduced a bill Tuesday to repeal the ordinance.

Fitzwater said that several local and federal laws require that vital documents be available in a number of languages, so, for all practical purposes, nothing changed after the 2012 ordinance was passed.

"This ordinance accomplished nothing of material substance," she said. "It has, however, had a profound impact on how Frederick County is perceived by those around us, including local and national media as well as the broader business community."

Maria Shuck, who serves as director of Centro Hispano, a Frederick-based group offering assistance to residents who are not English speakers, and who is an interpreter at Frederick Memorial Hospital, echoed Fitzwater's statements in a phone interview.

"I think the impact won't be huge on the Spanish-speaking population that I work with. I think the impact will be more significant [for] businesses and the future of Frederick as a welcoming community," she said.

As an interpreter, Shuck said the ordinance had absolutely no impact on her work, and the Hispanic community with which she works already understands the importance of learning English.

"I hate to see us waste a lot of time on this issue. I think it should be removed from the books because it doesn't serve a purpose," she said.

The language of Fitzwater and Keegan-Ayer's proposed bill emphasizes their belief that the English-only ordinance is unattractive to businesses.

The Frederick County Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of its largest employers that found that nearly all supported repealing the ordinance, according to a correspondence from the chamber.

Jorge Ribas, president and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that while it is vital to learn English, promoting monolingualism is an economic mistake.

"We all speak English in our chamber," he said. "We're all for English, but I think monoliteracy is the worst thing that can happen to the United States in a global economy."

Promoting English literacy for native and non-native speakers, he said, is far more important than mandating an official language.

When the bill was introduced Tuesday, Councilman Billy Shreve suggested modifying the ordinance and its exceptions.

"I don't know that we need to repeal it," he said.

Later in a phone interview, Shreve said the 2012 ordinance served to clarify the county's responsibilities when it comes to providing translations.

"It protects the county and says we only have to create documents in English. ... It's just to say, 'This is what we do. If you want anything else, you have to provide it yourself,'" he said. "The existing document is much more comprehensive and has protections for the citizens."

He noted that section 2 of the 2012 ordinance lists exceptions to the English rule, which the repeal bill does not address.

A public hearing to discuss the repeal bill will be held July 21.

Members of the Frederick Immigration Coalition and Asian American Center of Frederick stood among the two dozen or so people who attended Fitzwater's news conference to introduce the bill.

AACF executive director Elizabeth Chung expressed support for the repeal.

"The most important thing is to make Frederick welcoming," she said.

Follow Kelsi Loos, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.

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