Legislature Chooses Language Over Languishing Infrastructure

Despite flooding across the state, including the death a 1-year-old in Montcalm County, as well as worsening potholes before even hitting March, the state House has voted 62-46 on a bill establishing English as the official language of the state of Michigan.

“I drove over and around way too many potholes on my way to Lansing for us to be addressing an issue like this,” Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) tweeted about the last-minute decision by the Republican majority to bring House Bill 4053 up for a vote on the floor.

More to that point, an ice jam on a river in Arenac County caused that waterway to overflow, causing families to have to evacuate. And in Lansing itself, Mayor Andy Schor has declared a state of emergency. At least six Lansing neighborhoods were issued voluntary evacuations in areas where the Grand River, which runs through the heart of the city, was expected to meet homes, reports have indicated.

Numerous businesses along the river have been shuttered, and the flooding is considered to be the worst in over 30 years. The Red Cedar River in East Lansing, which runs through the heart of Michigan State University’s campus, could rise to more than 10 feet, other reports have indicated. The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids expects many of these rivers won’t crest – or reach their highest point – until this weekend.

In 2015, Republicans pushed through a roads plan that was supposed to prioritize road and infrastructure funding. But, even under that plan, only 50 percent of the roads in the state would be rated ”good” or “fair” 10 years after that plan having taken effect.

Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) offered a substitute to the English language bill, introduced by Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville), that would’ve require state departments to have language access plans per her bill, House Bill 4619. It was rejected, and her bill remains stalled in the House Government Operations Committee since last May.

Rep. Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) called the bill a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“It is unnecessary and only divisive,” she said. “My grandmother is no less American than any of you in this room, nor are any of the other Michiganders who have limited English proficiency.”

Rep. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) added, in a statement, “This bill will do nothing more than cause thousands of Michiganders to be designated to a lower class because English — the American version — is not their first language. We have no time to waste on frivolous legislation when we should be focused on making sure our kids are safe, on the roads and in their schools and communities.”

Watchdog group Progress Michigan also called the bill “another racist and xenophobic dog-whistle … that seeks to divide rather than unify.”

The Beacon will update this story as warranted.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson