NASHVILLE - A Cleveland, Tenn., lawmaker's bill requiring that state driver's license exams be given in English only was put off until December, a move designed to kill the measure for this legislative session.
The vote was 12-3 in the House Budget Subcommittee members
Critics contended the much-amended bill, sponsored by Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, sends the wrong message as Tennessee seeks to recruit additional foreign companies such as Volkswagen and Wacker Chemical to the state.
"This is probably one of the worst bills we've ever had before the General Assembly," said former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, noting that Tennessee ranks in the top tier of states landing major companies. "We may as well put a sign up if this passes that you're not welcome to Tennessee."
Under pressure from business interests, the bill was amended so tests could continue to be given in Spanish, Japanese, Korean and German to persons lawfully in the United States. But it would prevent the Tennessee Department of Safety Department from offering written exams in other languages.
Rep. Watson, a Bradley County Sheriff's Office lieutenant, said the issue is safety. He noted that in the early 2000s, Tennessee passed laws allowing "illegals to get driving certificates" but it was later repealed.
But, he said, "when we allowed them people to take tests in a foreign language, the accidents went up."
Rep. Watson later said he is working to persuade two thirds of the legislature to yank the bill out of the subcommittee and put it on the House floor.
See Thursday's Times Free Press for complete coverage.