Senate Committee Approves English Only Drivers Tests

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JEFFERSON CITY - A bill that would force Missouri drivers to take their tests in English is headed to the Senate after getting past a Republican-dominated committee.

The Senate General Laws Committee passed the bill, 6-2, over the opposition of a Bosnian refugee and Missourians who work with legal immigrants. Missouri currently allows people to take the driver's test in English or 11 other languages.

Supporters said the restriction would make Missouri roads safer, because everyone would be able to read road signs and communicate with police officers. Opponents, such as Bosnian refugee Jelena Mujanovic, said the bill would take away legal immigrants' ability to get to work. Her parents took the test in Bosnian, one of the languages Missouri offers.

"The cost to the state would be much higher had my parents not been able to drive," Mujanovic said. "I believe we would still be living in the one-bedroom apartment that we lived in when we moved here."

Mujanovic and others said the bill wouldn't affect illegal immigrants because they already can't get driver's licenses. Instead, hardworking people who are in the country legally could fall into the welfare system without a way to get to a job, said Pat Dougherty of the Catholic Charities of St. Louis.

"A lot of these people have been tortured and come from countries where they had to get out," Dougherty said. "They have no acquaintance with the English language, but these are not stupid people."

Supporters said the state should not have to pay the $6,000 cost to translate the test into new languages. And they said people who want to take the test in languages that aren't offered could sue, although no one has yet.

"It gets down to the issue of picking winners and loses," said Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, whose parents immigrated from Puerto Rico. "We as a state have said, 'If you speak one of these 11 languages, we like you a whole lot better."

The House has already passed the bill. It now heads to the full Senate for debate.