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Supporters: Language access bills a potential “gamechanger”

Seal of the State of Michigan
State of Michigan

Among the dozens of Michigan bills cleared for the governor's signature is a package requiring government services to provide non-English accommodations.

Michigan bills awaiting the governor’s signature would require government agencies to provide language-access services for people with limited English proficiency.

That would mean using interpreters and translating official documents. The bills would apply for any language spoken by at least 500 or 3% of people in a served community.

Christine Sauvé is policy engagement coordinator for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. She said the bills could be a “gamechanger.”

“No matter what language you speak or where you were born, we all benefit when people with limited English language proficiency can participate fully in public life and are included in many of the important government communications that this would cover,” Sauvé said.

The legislation would work by requiring the Office of Global Michigan to coordinate implementation of the policy, called the Statewide Meaningful Language Access Coordination Act.

The Office of Global Michigan would have to create a language access liaison to work with government entities on training and resource development. There would also be a process to file complaints with he Michigan Department of Civil Rights for non-compliance with the bills.

Sauvé said some government agencies may try to provide some level of translation services as a form of compliance with federal civil rights law. But she said that often falls short, leaving someone with limited options, other than the federal court system, for accessing language resources if they’re unavailable.

“There could be a civil rights claim there for discrimination based on national origin. So that has been in our federal civil rights law for a long time. And with state services, there hasn’t been this level of protection,” Sauvé said.

She said access issues have come up in cases like reported child labor violations.

“Many of those children and their families can’t access the complaint forms where you would report violations in the workplace or safety concerns,” Sauvé said.

Similar bills have come up in recent legislative sessions but didn’t make it to a committee hearing.