English would be official language of Michigan under House bill

LANSING — On the last day of the 2017 legislative session, with big issues such as stemming the opioid crisis and fixing a problem with unemployment benefits that ensnared thousands of Michiganders still to be debated, a House committee voted to make English the state’s official language.

“Thirty-two states have already made this move,” said state Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. “I think it’s important that we attempt to be unified in this state. It simply puts into legislation something that’s already a reality in the state.”

But House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, wasn’t buying it. To illustrate the political nature of the bill, he introduced amendments that would also make Ojibwe, the language used by a Native American tribe in Michigan, as the other official state language and making the Gregorian calendar the official state calendar.

“Is anybody not speaking English in any official capacity? Everybody in the state is already speaking English,” he said. “So the question is: Why is this something that is necessary? Why aren’t we focusing on jobs and helping people who are needed in this economy? If you’re going to play these type of political games instead of actually doing the work that people sent us here to do, then I need to show that this was a political thing and that’s why I offered up the amendments.”

The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, is running for Michigan Senate in 2018.

The bill — HB 4053 — would require that English be the language used in all public records, although a state agency or local unit of government could print official documents in both English and another language.

The bill is not expected to be voted on by the full House of Representatives this year, but could have a chance for passage in the Republican-controlled body next year.

Hours after the committee voted, both the House and Senate gave final passage to the package of bills dealing with the opioid crisis and the unemployment benefits scandal.

The opioid bills require that doctors have a bona fide relationship with a patient and check a drug database before prescribing opioid painkillers for a patient. The bills are intended to stem the tide of opioid overdoses and now head to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.

Bills also headed to Snyder would help prevent a recurrence of a recent state government fiasco in which tens of thousands of Michigan residents were falsely accused of unemployment benefits fraud. A key provision would require the Unemployment Insurance Agency to send notices of suspected fraud by claimants to all known addresses, not just the last address on file with the agency.

Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, kgray99@freepress.com or on Twitter @michpoligal

© 2018 WZZM-TV


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