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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R)

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RISING INTERPRETER COSTS CAUSING COUNTY LAYOFFS

Friday, February 01, 2008
During a recent meeting with the Winona County Board, I learned that the courts are going to have to lay off staff due to increased costs in administrative services. Specifically, significant, unforeseen increases in the areas of hiring interpreters and providing psychiatric services are taking up more of Winona County’s budget than anyone could have expected. An analysis on rising court interpreter costs around the state is staggering. Minnesota courts make every effort to provide language access to non-English speakers – whether it’s through translated materials, signage, or interpreters. According to the most recent numbers provided by the Minnesota Court Administrator’s Office, the total cost for interpreters was $3.3 million in 2007, a figure that has grown by nearly 40% over the past five years. In Minnesota's 11-county Third Judicial District (which includes Wabasha and Winona Counties), interpreter costs for the courts have increased 68% in the past five years, to over $500,000 annually! These are figures that blow me away. All of us are aware that illegal aliens are a constant concern not only on a national scale, but at a statewide level. This is one of the reasons why. It’s almost become second nature that Minnesotans will recondition state services to people in their native language. This is fine for those who are here legally and willing to learn our language over time and become productive members of society. It’s not OK if we are spending millions for this service each year for the benefit of those who enter this country illegally or refuse to learn the English language. Statistics like this have driven me to introduce a bill this session that will make English Minnesota’s official language. Part of the reason is formal, the other part is practical, as it would require anyone taking a driver’s license test to receive the exam in English and complete it without the use of an interpreter. To me, the bill is common sense; if you can’t read the road signs, then how are you expected to be an effective driver? Its just further incentive to learn English and become better acclimated to life in Minnesota. Meanwhile, county courts across the state are left to deal with rising interpreter costs. And, at least in Winona County, these escalating costs are going to put some people out of work.