Good News: Tennessee Kills English-Only Driver’s License Bill

By Julianne Hing May 13, 2010

Yesterday, a Tennessee House subcommittee effectively stopped a bill that would have limited the languages available to a person taking their driver’s license test. The bill would have allowed residents who show proof of legal residency the option of taking the test in one of four languages (English, Spanish, Korean or Japanese). But those who couldn’t show their papers would be forced to take the test in English. Earlier this week, the Tennessee Senate passed a version of the same bill, 22-10, but yesterday the House Budget Subcommittee voted 12-3 against the Republican Rep. Eric Watson’s bill. Members of the House subcommittee said that it would be bad for local business. Watson defended his bill as a public safety measure that was not intended to target undocumented immigrants, citing the many "licensed drivers who can’t speak English." The bill’s proponents also said it would help with road safety, though try as they might, lawmakers have been unable to find a correlation between fluency in the English language and driving skill. Elsewhere in the South, Tim James, a candidate for Alabama governor, is banking his campaign on a proposed English-only driver’s license bill in his state. And in the last year alone, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York and South Dakota have introduced various iterations of the English-only or monolingual driver’s license laws. In Tennessee though, there are voices of reason. Republican House Speaker Kent Williams voted to defer the bill. "I will not be pressured by someone in this state or any political party in trying to get me to vote against my conscience," he told