Language access law passes in New Jersey state senate

Demand for language services could be on the rise in the state of New Jersey, thanks to a bill that was recently passed in the state senate. 

If it becomes law, Senate Bill 2459 (SB 2459) would require state government agencies to provide translations in the 15 most widely spoken languages among the state’s population of individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). The proposed bill follows in the footsteps of a similar bill that MultiLingual recently reported on in the neighboring state of New York.

“New Jersey is second in the nation in terms of people who speak a language other than English at home. It is to everyone’s benefit that all residents are kept informed and are aware of services offered by the state regardless of what language they speak,” said state senator Teresa Ruiz, one of the primary sponsors of SB 2459, in a statement after the senate passed the bill late last month.

Though it doesn’t boast the same linguistic diversity as its next-door neighbor, the state of New Jersey is nonetheless home to speakers of a wide range of languages. According to a recent report from local agency NorthJersey.com, a little bit more than 40% of the state’s foreign-born population has LEP — that’s a population of roughly 900,000 people who need language access services. Plus, the state is home to speakers of more than 150 different languages.

As of right now, the bill would require state agencies to provide vital documents, translation, and interpreting services in Arabic, Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese), French, Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese. However, the state would also update the list every five years, according to data from the American Community Survey.

“Translating for your parents is simply a part of life for many first-generation children, but as one of the most diverse states in the country our residents deserve better,” said state senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, another one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “This legislation will help to ensure we aren’t relying on kids to connect families to life-saving resources.”

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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