Minnesota town makes English its official language
Despite warnings that the move could cause controversy, Lino Lakes, Minn., officials voted on July 26 to make English the town’s official language. The law’s supporters say it will reduce costs for printing material in more than one language or providing translators, but opponents say the city does not face such expenses, and the costs from possible litigation to overturn the law would be higher than any savings it could generate.
The ordinance requires “official actions which bind or commit the city” to be written in English, and it specifically states that the city “will not expend public dollars for translation of any documents or publications.” However, the ordinance also lists several exceptions to the law, including protecting public health and welfare; complying with several federal laws, such as the Native American Languages Act and the Voting Rights Act; to promote trade; to encourage the learning of languages other than English; and to collect fees and payments due to the city.
Before the law’s passage, the city’s Director of Administration Daniel Tesch told the council that, while several other municipalities had passed similar laws, they had been challenged in court “on many and varied grounds.” However, there was no clear case law to determine the legal strength of the law. Tesch went on to raise some points of consideration, including a concern that the ordinance may make the city seem “not welcoming and unfriendly.” Tesch also said that, to his knowledge, the city had not received any requests for a translator or for documents to be translated, though there had been times when the police department used translators.
The ordinance would have the opposite effect than intended, resident Ivy Cavegn said in a written statement she read at the meeting. Cavegn cited Tesch’s warning about the effect on the city’s public image, and she said the law, like other similar laws passed by other cities, would likely be challenged in court, which would incur costs whether the city wins or loses. “I do not believe that any possible future savings can possibly outweigh the disadvantages of passing such a law in Lino Lakes,” Cavegn said. “Such a law can only have a negative impact on us in a myriad of arenas — legally, public perception and business development.”
Download the PDF of Lino Lake’s English-only ordinance.