Md. county’s English-only law focus of public hearing

FREDERICK, Md. — The Frederick County Council has until Aug. 18 to decide whether to repeal a 3-year-old law mandating that English be the official language of county government business.

“There are only two other counties in Maryland that have such an ordinance, Maryland does not have an official language and the United States of America does not have an official language,” says Frederick County Council member Jessica Fitzwater.

Fitzwater has introduced a bill to repeal the law passed in January 2012, and the issue drew a packed house to a Tuesday evening public hearing in Frederick’s historic Winchester Hall.

The crowd seemed evenly divided, providing robust applause and cheers to citizen-speakers on each side of the controversial issue.

Those behind the effort to repeal the law say it hasn’t changed anything about the way county business is conducted, which has always been in English. But the law’s created a perception that is harmful to business growth.  They also charge that it makes Frederick County seem unwelcoming.

“There’s a wide perception that this ordinance paints a very negative picture of Frederick County and we want to wipe that picture away,” Fitzwater says.

“It’s time to put a stop to negative news stories and headlines that make us look like we missed the turning of the  21st century,” says Linda Norris-Waldt, a businesswoman who lives in Middleton, Maryland.

If the law goes down, it won’t go down without a fight.

“The fact is that official English laws  help encourage assimilation among immigrants, which is the most welcoming thing that we can do,” says Bob Vandervoort, executive director of Pro English, an Arlington, Virginia group that works to make English the official language of federal, state and local government. Vandervoort promoted Frederick’s 2012 law.

“I just think that we don’t want to get to the point where we have to do the whole Congressional Record in multiple languages,” says Dick Barlow, a retired government worker and resident of Frederick County.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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