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Heated Debate Over Bill To Make English Pennsylvania's Official Language


Differing opinions on how well immigrants are assimilating are rising to the surface as state House lawmakers consider making English the official language of Pennsylvania. The legislation would ensure all state government business conducted and documents printed are in English.

Representative RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon County) said her bill would encourage recent immigrants to learn English. She said past generations of immigrants were more diligent about learning English.

"That was their first priority when they came to the country," said Swanger. "They wanted to learn our language."

That caused some verbal sparring with Representative Flo Fabrizio (D-Erie) "Wonderful, and you've had the same kind of experience, and that's precisely my argument. That's precisely my argument."

Swanger: "But it doesn't happen so much today. I don't see it happen in Lebanon (County)."

Fabrizio: "I really believe you're making some assumptions there."

Swanger: "Oh no, no."

However, Representative Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne County) questioned the need for the legislation.

"I always thought that English was the official language in America, because I don't see how you survive without knowing English," said Pashinski. "I guess officially it hasn't been said so."

But Representative Jerry Knowles (R-Berks County) added his support to the bill.

"Most people [who] come to this country want to learn the language. Because of all the reasons you stated," said Knowles. "And I would say that those people would open their arms to this legislation."

Swanger said it costs the state about $3 million a year to print information in other languages, and that money could be better utilized. Swanger's plan and a second proposal to make English the official language come with exceptions. Other languages could still be used for the sake of public safety, and in promoting international commerce and tourism.

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