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News Maryland Carroll County

Carroll County officials may make English official language

A Carroll County commissioner has drafted legislation that would make English the county's official language — and if it passes, Carroll would become the third Maryland locality to enact such legislation this year, following Frederick and Queen Anne's counties.

Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, who represents the Hampstead area, said he will ask his colleagues to introduce the proposal at the board's session Thursday. If they are amenable, a public hearing would be scheduled before a vote.

"I want it on the record that English is the official language within this county," said Shoemaker, a practicing attorney. "This just makes sense to me. I admit I am impatient with the need to press a button to get a message in English. This issue is getting more significant all the time."

Carroll, whose minority population is less than 7 percent of its nearly 170,000 residents, expanded its governing board from three to five members in 2010 and elected Republicans to all the seats. Shoemaker's draft allows the board to "take all steps necessary to ensure that the role of English as the common language of Carroll is preserved and enhanced."

Frederick County's adoption of a similar measure inspired him, Shoemaker said. Commissioner Richard Rothschild said he will lend his support.

"This is woefully overdue on the national level," Rothschild said. "By not making English the official language, we are allowing the factionalization of society. Multiple languages weaken a country and create all kinds of problems for employment."

Across the country, 31 states have made English the official language.

"It is an effort to make sure English is preserved," said Suzanne Bibby, director of government relations for ProEnglish, a national group seeking to make English the official language.

Rameez Abbas, a political scientist and coordinator of the global security master's program at the Johns Hopkins University, said, "This is absolutely a trend in communities across the country.

"Making English official has been part of our political entity since the 1700s," she said, "and part of the backlash as well. It is today extremely popular across the country."

But, she added, people see their support of such measures as patriotic and often do not look deeply into the issue.

"It looks good on the surface, but there are troubling implications for how seriously we take integration and how inclusive we are as a society," she said.

Research has shown there is little threat to English, she said. English acquisition rates are high among immigrants and most second-generation immigrants are fluent in the language, she said.

Shoemaker insists there is no bias in his motives. In fact, he said, the legislation will promote assimilation and save taxpayer dollars spent on printing documents in two languages, for example. His constituents have expressed overwhelming support, he said.

Blaine R. Young, president of the Frederick County board of commissioners, said he cannot understand why anyone would be upset.

"No one has said 'English only,'" he said.

He said he has not noticed any change in the way the county conducts business since the resolution was adopted.

"And I didn't anticipate any change," Young said. "This is just common sense, and it was what the people of this county wanted. Most of the opposition to the proposal involved calling us a wide variety of names."

The Carroll Commissioners will take public comment before their 1:30 p.m. weekly meeting Thursday at the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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