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In Utah, It's Gracias but no Gracias

State takes a hard line on English only.

Two weeks after Utah launched a state-owned Spanish-language Web site this summer, state officials had to pull the plug on it. The 10-page site, which was part of a redesign of Utah's 400-page English-language site, provided information on topics such as taxes, health services and driver licenses.

It may have been a small site, but it was big enough to draw the outcry of critics who said the site violated a law establishing English as the official language of Utah. The English-only law, which was passed in Utah in 2000, allows exemptions only for issues of public health and safety, court proceedings, education and tourism. In order to put the site back online, officials re-designed it to conform to the letter of the law. Now, Spanish-speaking residents can still find information on health programs and licenses but not on paying taxes or using state libraries.

The Web site isn't the only form of communication that's been guided by Utah's English-only law. A few weeks after the brouhaha over the site, state election officials announced they would cease producing voter information in Spanish. To prepare citizens for the state's switch to touch-screen voting machines, the state had already distributed 100,000 voter information pamphlets--printed in both English and Spanish--explaining how to use the new electronic devices. Elections officials decided not to send out any more of the pamphlets since they might violate the official-language law. Future voter information will be available only in English.

Utah is not alone in dealing with such issues. Over half the states have English-only laws on the books.

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