LANSING – State Representative Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) introduced House Bill 4891 today that would require state departments to take reasonable steps to provide equal language access to clients who are English Language Learners/Limited English Proficient (LEP). These steps could include actions such as oral language services, and/or translating vital documents into languages spoken by LEP populations. Translation of vital documents would be required if LEP residents make up at least 3 percent of the population in that geographic area or 1,000 or more people served by that local office.
“Michigan is becoming a more diverse state that includes a large and growing immigrant population, and every Michigander deserves to have access to services provided by state departments and agencies in order to meet their needs,” said Chang. “In 2013, our state courts were ordered to provide court-appointed foreign language interpreters during court proceedings for LEP persons, and to adopt plans allowing for meaningful access to services outside of the courtroom. My bill will ensure that our state departments and agencies do this important work as well.”
According to the U.S Census Bureau, 6 percent of Michiganders are foreign-born, more than 843,000 Michiganders (9.1 percent) over the age of 5 speak another language at home besides English, and 3.2 percent speak English less than very well. In some regions of the state, rates of limited English proficient (LEP) individuals are higher.
“State agencies have high-stakes roles in all of our lives, and when everyone is able to fully understand and participate, the whole community is stronger,” said Susan E. Reed, supervising attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. “People with limited English proficiency and their families contribute culturally, socially and economically to our state, and this legislation will support their full integration into our communities as well as their civil rights.”
Chang’s bill also requires that, every two years, each department or agency will develop and submit to the Department of Civil Rights an equal language access report. The language access report will include items such as the number of bilingual workers, a plan to address any insufficiency in their ability to provide equal language access, a list of documents it has translated and the name of the individual designated as the language access coordinator. HB 4891 also requires the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to develop a form and process for members of the public to report and remedy noncompliance. Maryland, California and Hawaii each already have a state law requiring language access plans for state agencies and New York state has an executive order.
“Gov. Rick Snyder has declared Sept. 12 through Sept. 20 as ‘Welcoming Week’ to highlight the important contributions of immigrants and to create welcoming communities to capitalize on our diverse perspectives and talents. I hope that my colleagues will help pass my bill so that we can ensure that our state departments do all they can to assist immigrants who bring their families, talents and skills to our communities to live, work and help us build a better Michigan for everyone,” said Chang.