Senator Proposes English-Only Amendment To Ga. Constitution

Jan 25, 2016

A Georgia senator wants to add a constitutional amendment to make English the state's official language.

The General Assembly already passed a law in 1996 declaring English as the state’s official language, but state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) says he wants to put the law into the state’s constitution so that it’s harder to change in the future.

“We want to make it more difficult to reverse that public policy,” McKoon said. He first pre-filed the resolution in December. If approved by the legislature, the issue would go before Georgia voters in a referendum.

“English should be our common language. It's the tie that binds people of disparate backgrounds,” McKoon said. “I think voters should have the opportunity to weigh in on that.”

The 1996 law allows state agencies and local governments to use or print documents in languages other than English “at the discretion of their governing authorities.” McKoon’s proposal would require state documents to use only English, including driver’s license exams, with some exceptions – like for protecting public safety and teaching English to non-fluent speakers.

It would also "prohibit discrimination" against a person solely because they speak only English. 

similar resolution was proposed in 2014 by then-state Sen. Don Balfour, but didn’t pass.

Critics say the proposal would create barriers for people with limited English proficiency and sends an unwelcoming message to the immigrant community.

"I see this as a political maneuver. It's an election year,"said state Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth).

Marin is pushing his own proposal in the House that would expand access to public services for people with limited English skills – and he said more needs to be done as the state’s demographics shift.

“The demographics of the state calls for us to be more inclusive, to get people to interact better with the government,” Marin said.