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House Committee Rejects Spanish Driver's License Exam Option


South Dakota House Republicans are rejecting a bill that requires the state to provide driver’s license preparation material and written exams for those whose first language is Spanish.

Supporters say a test in a second language could help address the state’s workforce development issue.

Proponents say the bill directs approximately $16-thousand for printing application, study materials and an exam for noncommercial drivers licenses in Spanish.

The driving portion of the test would remain in English.  Democratic State Senator Reynold Nesiba says this bill is an approach to solve a workforce development issue. He says taking a written exam in a second language is difficult for some test takers.

“This is why 44 other states have amended their laws to try and deal with this,” Nesiba says. “I think this is also about public safety. We want people to know the rules of our road. We want people to know they’re required to have insurance. We want them to increase their self-sufficiency to be able to get to work. We want them less reliant on public programs. We want them to have freedom.”

The bill passed out of the Senate by a vote of 19-15

The Department of Public Safety opposes the bill saying 17.5 percent of test takers who use an interpreter used Spanish interpreters. A lobbyist for the department says they’re not receiving complaints from individuals that they cannot pass the examination because of a language barrier.

That was the basis of Speaker of the House Steve Haugaard’s opposition, who says he doesn’t see this as a workforce issue. He says diluting the South Dakota population with a second culture—and encourage that second culture—doesn’t advance the state.

“I’ve been on plenty of worksites,” Haugaard says. “Whether its Spanish or any other language, if the predominate number of people there—and that’s their native tongue—they’re going to use that. I think it’s good to discourage multiple languages. I think it’s good to encourage English. I think that’s the most appropriate thing to try to maintain a cohesive culture.”

Eight representatives voted against the bill.  Supporters say the idea isn’t going away and that conversations will continue with the department of public safety.