City of Nashville rejects English-only law

NASHVILLE, Tennessee Thu Jan 22, 2009 11:17pm EST

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Voters in Nashville on Thursday rejected a proposal that would have made the country music capital the largest U.S. city to make English the official language of local government.

Returns showed the proposition lost by 41,752 votes to 32,144, local media reported.

The Nashville Tennessean had urged defeat of the measure, saying in an editorial on Thursday that it was discriminatory and would damage the city.

It would "exclude and marginalize" non-English speakers, it said, asking: "How can they assimilate if they cannot first get basic services -- deeds, permits, driver's licenses, police and fire protection?"

U.S. English Inc, which has promoted and keeps track of such language proposals, said 30 states had passed official English legislation, which applies in varying degrees to state government activities but not local ones.

In the past 2 1/2 years, it added, a number of smaller towns had passed such measures. Nashville, with a population of about 600,000, would have been the largest U.S. city by far to have approved such a step had it passed.

It marked the third time the proposal had been considered in the Tennessee capital. Local elected officials approved such a measure in 2007, but then-Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed it. A technical issue killed it on another attempt as a charter amendment.

The current mayor, Karl Dean, opposed the latest version.

Backers said it would have required city boards, commissions and council meetings to be in English only, would have encouraged immigrants to learn English and saved an estimated $150,000 yearly on translation services.

(Written by Michael Conlon in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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