Journal Record: Justice Department: English Amendment Wouldn’t Affect State Funding

Oct 12, 2009
In The News

OKLAHOMA CITY –

Oklahoma’s congressional delegation reacted favorably Friday to notification from the U.S. Department of Justice that passage of an official-language ballot proposal by voters would not jeopardize federal funding to the state.

“Please be assured that voter approval next year of Oklahoma’s official English amendment would not affect the state’s eligibility for federal financial assistance from the department,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote in a recent letter to U.S. Sen.

Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. “The Oklahoma constitutional proposal, as revised, now appropriately allows languages other than English when required by federal law.”

In April, the Justice Department sent a letter to Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson saying state agencies that receive federal funds must comply with certain laws affecting individuals who have a limited proficiency in English. The agency said recipients of federal money must comply with the requirements of civil rights laws.

Weich told the senator the earlier letter did not threaten to terminate federal financial assistance to the state if lawmakers passed a measure then pending in the Legislature.

“It was unprecedented and improper for the federal agency to send such a letter to the state while the proposed amendment was still being debated,” Inhofe said in a statement. “This is an issue that should be decided by the voters in our state without undue influence from Washington.”

Following the April letter, Edmondson notified Gov. Brad Henry and the Legislature of the Justice Department’s concerns.

Lawmakers amended pending legislation that would put the official-language issue before voters next year, to require that official state actions be conducted in English, “except as required by federal law.”

In July, the congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, criticizing the DOJ for sending “what amounted to a funding termination letter” before Oklahoma voters passed such a law. The letter asked for an explanation for “this overreach” and a detailing of what federal funding would be eliminated if voters approved the constitutional amendment.

First District U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., said he is reassured that Oklahomans can vote on the amendment without fear of the federal government eliminating financial assistance.

“As a firm believer in states’ rights for Oklahoma, it is important that the people of Oklahoma are free to make this choice without threats from their own federal government,” Sullivan said.

Third District U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said, “Oklahoma voters should be able to make decisions about their state without interference or threats from the federal government, especially while that law is still being debated.”

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