Trilingual birth certificates bill runs into problems

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An attempt to return Louisiana to its colonial roots and print birth certificates in English, French and Spanish hit roadblocks Tuesday in a House committee.

State Rep. Stephen Ortego told the House Committee on Health and Welfare that he filed House Bill 602 for the benefit of students studying abroad.

He said the students often pay $350 to have their Louisiana birth certificates translated for admission to foreign study programs.

“We live in a global economy, so more and more people are studying abroad,” said Ortego, D-Carencro.

Initially, he just sought to have the birth certificates printed in English and Louisiana French. At committee, he brought in Spanish.

“Historically in Louisiana, we were a Spanish colony and a French colony,” he said.

The committee’s chairman, state Rep. Scott Simon, pointed out that Louisiana also is home to other nationalities.

“We have a large Vietnamese community in New Orleans. What about the Yugoslavians in Plaquemines Parish, who do oyster fishing? ... Do you get where I’m coming to?” asked Simon, R-Abita Springs.

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, wanted to know if schools should start printing report cards in multiple languages.

State Rep. Thomas Willmott, R-Kenner, said costs would escalate if the state translated death certificates, marriage licenses and driver’s licenses.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimated the state would incur costs for translating the current birth certificate text into other languages and modifying the template that prints the documents.

Willmott also raised concerns about interpretation issues.

Ortego passed out a copy of his passport, showing it contains multiple language translations.

“I don’t see a problem with passports printed by the U.S. government,” he said.

Willmott responded: “That’s international.”

Finally, state Rep. J. Rogers Pope moved to involuntarily defer the bill, which could kill the proposal.

Pope, R-Denham Springs, said he had major reservations about the legislation.

“We’re still an English-speaking nation, and I hope we can maintain an English-speaking nation for my benefit,” he said.

Ortego voluntarily pulled HB602, saying he will talk to committee members individually to try to reach a solution.