ATLANTA - The Georgia Legislature appears on the verge of approving a measure that would require driver's license applicants to take the written exam in English, which could make Georgia the only state to have such a rule.
The measure passed the House Monday by a 104-58 vote. The proposal, which has already passed the Senate, would go to Gov. Sonny Perdue's desk if the chambers hash out minor differences in their versions of the bill.
Supporters of the bill say it's a matter of public safety, contending that drivers should be proficient in English so they can read roadside signs and overhead warnings.
``We believe it's a public safety measure,'' said state Rep. James Mills, a Gainesville Republican who sponsored the measure. ``If someone sees a sign in the road that says, 'Bridge Out Ahead,' we want to make sure you can read 'Bridge Out Ahead.'''
But opponents say it's an anti-immigrant measure that would also hurt Georgia's chances of attracting foreign investment.
``This is real important on where we would want to take the state,'' said House Minority Leader DuBose Porter. ``If we pass it, it would be shortsighted and narrow-minded.''
State Rep. Pedro Marin, one of a handful of Hispanic state legislators, said the measure would ``scapegoat'' immigrants.
``There is no logical reason for this bill to be introduced,'' said Marin, D-Duluth. ``The whole purpose is to stigmatize communities of those people who are different.''
Georgia law now requires that applicants take the driving test and road signs test in English. But the written test is offered in 14 languages other than English, said Susan Sports of the Georgia Department of Driver Services. About 5,000 people a month take the test in one of those other languages, with the most popular being Spanish, Japanese and Korean, she said.
The proposed law would apply only to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who are eligible for a Georgia driver's license. It would provide an exception for people, such as temporary workers with visas or refugees, who are eligible for temporary licenses and would be able to take the written test in one of the other languages currently available.
According to U.S. English, a Washington-based political advocacy group dedicated to making English the official language, there are six other states that have similar laws Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.
But calls by The Associated Press to the agencies that issue driver's licenses in those states found that all of them either offer the written test in languages other than English or allow test takers to use an interpreter or other aid.