Frederick County makes English official language

Frederick County is the first jurisdiction in Maryland to make English the official language of the government.

After a three hour hearing Tuesday night, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-to-1 approving the measure, which went into effect Wednesday.

"English is our official language. I mean could you imagine if we started conducting our official meetings in French?" asked Commissioner Blaine Young, R-Frederick County.

Young is baffled by all of the media attention focused on the new law.

"I think it's just quite amusing that a lot of people are trying to make a story out of a non-story. No one railed against the state making milk the official state drink," Young said.

Commissioners say the ordinance does not apply to healthy, safety or welfare services. Tourism and trade are also exempted.

When needed, the county will still provide translated documents an interpreters to criminal defendants.

Also, federal and state laws require the availability of bilingual voter ballots and ESL programs in schools.

So what actually changes?

The biggest change is that if a non-English speaker would show up and would want a budget document and wanted it translated into another language other than English, we wouldn't do that at the taxpayer's cost," Young said.

Some residents supported the change.

"All in all, we are an English-speaking city, county and state," said Pat Witte.

Others strongly oppose it.

"I think that we're a melting pot of all different cultures. Why limit it to one specific culture," said Abby Casarella.

"I don't think that's fair. I think everyone deserves a fair shake. No matter what language you speak," said an opponent.

Recent census data shows a huge increase in the number of Latino and Asian residents in Frederick County. Many of them do not speak English as a first language or at all.

The ACLU of Maryland says this law making English the official language of the county puts an unfair burden on those residents, many of whom are legal residents and citizens.

"If you're a tax-paying citizen, you should have a right to that, even if you don't speak English," said Phil Atkinson, an opponent of the measure.

Commissioners say county staff will do their best to refer non-English speakers to bilingual organizations and resources when possible, but from now on, when they come here English is the new expectation.

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