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Nashville adopts `English First' policy

Associated Press | February 7, 2007

Nashville's city council has voted to adopt English as its official language, following similar moves by several smaller cities around the country.

After months of debate, the city's Metro Council voted 23-14 on Tuesday to approve the measure requiring all government communications to be in English, except when multilingual communications are required by federal rules or are needed "to protect or promote public health, safety or welfare."

The exceptions were added after the city attorney contended that the bill's original language was unconstitutional. Some supporters and opponents of the measure said the exceptions mean the law would have little effect on city business.

The measure moves on to Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, who hadn't said by Wednesday whether he will sign it, veto it or allow it to pass into law without his signature.

Bill sponsor Councilman Eric Crafton and his supporters said the change offers an incentive for immigrants to learn English.

"This bill says we'll simply do the governmental business in English," Crafton said. "If we shouldn't do it in English, I'd like for somebody else to stand up and tell us what language we should conduct our business in."

Opponents contend the new law would hurt the image of Nashville, which bills itself as "Music City USA."

"From our perspective, the job just got a little tougher to prove to the world that Nashville is the inclusive city it is," said Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Nashville, a city of more than 600,000, is home to the nation's largest Kurdish community and has been a resettlement site for refugees from Africa and Southeast Asia. The Hispanic immigrant population also has boomed, and researchers say Nashville's foreign-born population has grown 350 percent since 1990.

Gregg Ramos, a Nashville attorney and first-generation American who opposed the measure, said Nashville is the largest city and the only state capital to pass such a law.

Smaller communities including Pahrump, Nev.; Taneytown, Md.; the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch and the Atlanta suburb of Cherokee County all recently passed similar laws or resolutions.

Twenty-eight states have adopted English as their official language, including Arizona, where voters approved a law last year, according to U.S. English Inc., a Washington-based advocacy group.

The U.S. Senate's version of last year's failed immigration bill would have made English the national language, but U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the measure would have been purely symbolic.

(Restores dropped 's' to city of Farmers Branch, and corrects that some communities have passed resolutions, not laws.)

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