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Mills' English-only driver's license bill loses steam
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The Georgia House on Wednesday put the brakes on a bill that would require Georgia driver's license exams for permanent residents to be given only in English.

The House voted 115-50 to table the legislation after passing an amendment that effectively gutted it.

It pitted concerns about public safety on one side against worries about discrimination and economic development on the other.

Supporters of the bill - including sponsor state Rep. James Mills - said the current policy of allowing drivers tests to be administered in 14 languages poses a safety hazard since road signs are printed in English.

Mills said drivers must be able to read digital road signs that give text messages, not just recognizable symbols like the familiar red "Stop" sign.

"I want to make sure the driver behind my child in a school bus can read that sign," Mills said.

But opponents said that's xenophobic. They noted that illiterate Georgians - who presumably also cannot read digital road signs - can take the test orally.

"We cannot in good conscience legislate intolerance," state Democratic Rep. Pedro Marin, of Duluth, said.
Others - including Republicans - argued the GOP measure could harm the state's efforts to attract foreign visitors and economic development from abroad.

"This is not a partisan issue," said Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He called for lawmakers to vote against the bill.

"The word will go out if this bill becomes law that we are not encouraging these businesses to have their interests in this state."

Freshman Rep. B.J. Pak scuttled the bill when legislators adopted his amendment requiring the state only to update its sign test to include the English words used most frequently on digital signs. The rest of the test could still be given in other languages, under Pak's amendment.

Pak, a Republican from Lilburn, said if the concern was about the ability to read road signs, his amendment offered a "more nuanced approach."

Mills bill would have made an exception for immigrants in the country on temporary visas. But it placed a 10-year limit on such temporary licenses.

It appeared to have support from new Gov. Nathan Deal, who as a congressman sponsored legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Deal told reporters on Wednesday that he generally supports the concept of English-only drivers licenses.
"That is our language that is acknowledged," Deal said.

The Republican governor said he was aware of concerns that the measure could discourage foreign visitors.

"We have a fairly liberal temporary drivers license that has a rather long duration that I think will accommodate most of those immediate concerns," Deal said.

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