Eric Crafton, a city councilor in Nashville, is the proponent of a law prohibiting government officials from communicating in any language other than English (with some exceptions for health and safety). Currently, there are no requirements that any particular language be used, a situation which, Mr. Crafton contends, is subject to abuse. To make his point he introduced his resolution in Japanese, which he is reported to speak fluently as the result of time spent in Japan while serving in the Navy.
As with previous proposals of this type, I am not convinced that there is a problem in need of a solution. I haven't heard of a lot of government officials, in Nashville or elsewhere, insisting on using languages other than English that their constituents and clients do not understand. Elected officials are, after all, politicians, and politicians are out to get the vote. Surely even the stupidest politician is aware that using a language that his constituents do not understand is not going to make him popular and bring in the votes. Similarly, municipal employees will quickly draw complaints if they refuse to communicate with their clients. They may get away with refusal to use a minority language, but I just don't see their political masters letting them get away with refusal to use the majority language.
The New York Times quotes Mr. Crafton as giving one piece of evidence of the existence of the problem he hopes to solve:
I happened to see a state legislature meeting in California where several of the state representatives had interpreters at their desk because they couldn’t speak English.
If this is true, it is probably not evidence of the problem. Those legislators would not have been elected if they did not speak the language of their constituents, so if this is true, I'm willing to bet that they represent districts in which the majority language is not English. The "problem", then, would not be the one that Mr. Crafton cites, but rather that state legislators might not all have a common language. That would be inconvenient, to be sure, but it is a problem that arises in multilingual countries and international organizations and is one that is not all that difficult to deal with. Here in Canada, for example, Parliament functions quite nicely in two languages, English and French. Most anglophone MPs do not speak functional French. Most francophone MPs do speak English, but a few don't.
The fact is, though, that the ability to speak English is so useful that members of linguistic minorities, whether native born or immigrant, who have any interest in getting ahead, a category that presumably includes those who become state legislators, are strongly motivated to learn it, and do learn it. I don't believe that there are California state legislators who do not speak and understand English. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. I'd like to know the names of the California state legislators who allegedly do not speak English along with the basis for the claim that they don't. I don't know if Mr. Crafton reads Language Log, but if he or anyone else can supply this information, I'll be surprised.