California lawmakers took a step Tuesday toward an overhaul of the voter-approved 1998 law requiring English-only instruction in public schools, another victory for Latino legislators seeking to strip away polarizing laws aimed at immigrants.
Legislators passed a proposed ballot measure that would ask voters in two years to dismantle the key English-only mandate of the law and expand multilingual education programs. The measure goes next to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Just hours after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto addressed a joint session of the California Legislature, a separate proposal also passed that would provide a student-loan program for immigrants who are here illegally and attend a University of California or Cal State campus.
Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus, said his bill to rescind English-only education comes as more parents push for waivers to enroll their children in popular language immersion programs, recognizing the advantages of speaking multiple languages.
"I think Californians' attitudes have changed and they understand the need, now that we are in a global economy, to have a multilingual workforce," said Lara, sponsor of SB 1174. "I think the time has come for us to revisit multilingualism, bilingualism and language immersion programs."
If Brown signs the measure and voters approve it, parents will have more power to decide which languages should be used to instruct their children. The part of the law that ensures student access to adequate English instruction would remain intact.
Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar objected to the legislation, saying that language buried in the proposed ballot measure would allow the Legislature to make wholesale changes to the language instruction law with a simple majority vote. Huff called the bill "an end run around the vote of the people.''
Last week, the Legislature voted to expunge from state law all remnants of Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative that voters passed to bar state services to immigrants in the country illegally. The measure had been ruled unconstitutional by the courts but was never struck from the books. Brown has not yet acted on that measure.
The student loan legislation, SB 1210, would provide money for an estimated 1,800 borrowers, according to an analysis of the bill, which Lara sponsored. In California, people living here illegally are entitled to pay resident tuition rates and are eligible for state financial aid.
However, those students are not eligible for federal financial aid, and the loans would help fill that gap. The bill also goes to the governor, along with proposals to:
•Speed up the testing of rape kits and enter the sexual assault evidence into the national DNA database. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said her bill, AB 1517, is meant to address a backlog of such evidence that sits "on the …shelves of our law enforcement agencies."
Allow 16-year-old California residents to preregister to vote. SB 113 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) would make them immediately able to vote once they turned 18.
Ban lobbyists from hosting campaign fundraisers in their homes. The legislation, AB 1673 by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), comes after state regulators found a lobbyist had been hosting political fundraisers for multiple California politicians, and that the cost of those events exceeded the $500 legal gift limit.
A measure to ban offshore oil drilling in Santa Barbara County failed in the Assembly. Drilling in state waters has been barred since 1994, but a loophole could allow for new projects in an area of the Santa Barbara Channel. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) sought to repeal that exemption with her bill, SB 1096.
Opponents said those decisions are better left to the state.