Assembly Approves Language Rights Legislation

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State Sen. Leland Yee

SACRAMENTO – The State Assembly on Monday approved two language rights bills authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco).

SB 111 is landmark legislation that would prohibit businesses from denying service to a patron because of the language he or she speaks.

SB 88 would help protect the integrity of ballots, specifically addressing the use of fraudulent Asian character-based names such as Chinese, Korean, and Japanese translations used during elections.

Adding Language to Civil Rights Act

Two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed Yee’s SB 242, which, like SB 111, attempted to add protections for language to the state’s Civil Rights Act — the law that prohibits discrimination within business establishments. While speaking one’s native language is generally protected in cases of employment and housing under state law, such protections are not currently extended to consumers.

“No one should be discriminated against simply for speaking their language,” said Yee. “All patrons – English-speaking and non-English-speaking alike – deserve to be served.  SB 111 will rightfully add language to the list of protected classes within California’s civil rights act.”

The issue stems from a proposed policy announced in 2008 by the LPGA to suspend players who do not speak English. The LPGA claimed that it was important for players to be able to interact with American media and event sponsors. However, many of the sponsors are international companies and a number of the tournaments are not held in the U.S. No other professional sports league in the U.S. has such a mandate.

The LPGA later rescinded the proposal after objections from Yee and over 50 civil rights organizations.

“It is quite disheartening that in the 21st century any organization would think such a policy is acceptable,” said Yee. “With the passage of SB 111 such discriminatory mandates will not only be unfair, but illegal.”

The state’s main civil rights law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, prohibits discrimination within business establishments, generally to protect patrons from not receiving service based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, and sexual orientation.

SB 111 would prohibit a business from adopting a policy that requires, limits, or prohibits the use of any language within a business establishment. The bill allows a language restriction to be imposed as long as notification has been provided of the circumstances when the language restriction is required. SB 111 does not impose any additional requirements on businesses other than to respect the dignity and diversity of their patrons, Yee said.

Integrity of Ballots

SB 88, a reintroduction of SB 288 from 2009, which was also vetoed by Schwarzenegger, will create guidelines for the fair use of candidate names on ballots in jurisdictions that provide ballot translations.

Currently, candidates can submit a non-English name to appear on the ballot that is not their given name or a phonetic translation of their English name. As a way to deceive the public to gain votes, some candidates have created and used a popular Asian name or even used appealing words as their translated name.

“SB 88 will ensure that the name appearing on the ballot is in fact the actual name or translated name of the candidate,” said Yee. “Voters deserve to know the true identity of the individuals they are asked to elect. I am confident that under Gov. Brown we can get this bill signed into law.”

Under SB 88, candidates who would like a character-based name on the ballot would be provided a phonetic translation or transliteration of their name by the county elections office or by the Secretary of State’s Office. Alternatively, a candidate could submit his/her own translated name if the candidate has a character-based language name by birth or is already identified by a particular character-based name within the public sphere.

“SB 88 attempts to stop the last-minute, deceptive practice of using a fake name simply to deceive Asian voters to win an election,” said Yee. “This legislation will help to further protect the integrity of our electoral system.”

Both SB 88 and SB 111 must receive procedural concurrence votes in the Senate on Thursday before consideration by Gov. Jerry Brown. He will then have 12 days to sign or veto.

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