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Could Spanish-Language Legislative Sites Boost Civic Engagement?

KUT News

In a U.S. Census Bureau survey of the nearly seven million Spanish speakers in Texas, almost three million speak English “less than very well.”

State Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) has a bill that would translate Texas legislative information into Spanish in what he calls an effort to boost civic engagement.

Texas Hispanics historically have a lower voter participation rate than whites.  And yet, Texas is expected to become majority Hispanic within a decade. Rep. Canales  has filed a bill to make House legislative information available on the internet in Spanish.  The Senate already does that. Rep. Canales said his bill would enable more Spanish-speaking Texans to know more about how government operates, such as when a committee hearing takes place, or how to contact their lawmakers.     

"When people know what’s going on they tend to want to participate," Rep. Canales said. "Participation is the cornerstone of government. We need people to be engaged and we need people to voice their opinions, and that is a true democracy."

The Legislative Council estimated it would cost the state more than $26 million to translate all Legislature documents dating back to 1993 into Spanish. But after that, it would cost between $1.5 and $3.5 million, depending on whether the Legislature is in session.

During the House Technology committee hearing, Republican State Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco questioned whether not pushing people to feel comfortable in English could actually hurt them. He brought up the widespread use of English around the world.

"We just want to do everything we can to encourage our citizens and the folks that are here that are maybe hoping to be citizens to hopefully get a good handle on it," Rep. Fallon said.

Mark Jones chairs the political science department at Rice University in Houston. He says this bill could get more Spanish speakers involved in the legislative process.

"We have to see how many people would actually take advantage of it and actually utilize this resource," Jones said. "But it is clear that there's a large Hispanic population in Texas that would prefer to have a lot of the information regarding the Legislature in Spanish."  

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