A Utah Department of Health report ranked English, Spanish, Chinese, German, and Navajo among the top five most spoken languages in Utah.
Gov. Spencer Cox signed legislation Monday that would allow Utahns with limited English proficiency to take their driver’s license exam in a language other than English.
The law, drafted by State Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, would require the Driver Licensing Division of the Utah Department of Public Safety to provide driver license testing in the five major languages spoken in the state.
By law, it will be up to Utah’s Division of Multicultural Affairs to determine the five most widely spoken languages in the state after English. A 2016 report from the Utah Department of Health ranked English, Spanish, Chinese, German, and Navajo among the top five most spoken languages in Utah.
During his monthly press conference on PBS Utah last week, Cox said he supported the bill. When asked if he would sign the bill, Cox, in Spanish, replied, “Of course.”
“We were very excited about this bill. [It’s] something we worked on and something we supported,” he said. “We look forward to signing it as soon as I have the opportunity to go through this bill.”
The new law comes as the state is experiencing rapid growth among its Latino population. Over the past decade, Hispanic communities in Utah have grown by 38% and now make up 15% of the state’s residents, according to last year’s census results.
More than 45 states offer their driver’s license tests in more than one language, including neighboring states California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Idaho.
Taking a driver’s license test in a language other than English is currently only available to refugees and immigrants who have been granted asylum.
Last year, 367 driver’s license tests were offered in Spanish. The other main languages translated are Swahili, Arabic, Tiger and Farsi, Burmese and Somali.
During the last legislative session, Cox signed a bill to remove an “English only” provision in state law that required official government documents, transactions, procedures, meetings and publications are in English. This bill was prompted by the need for government officials to communicate critical messages about COVID-19 to the state’s immigrant communities, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.
A broader bill, HB130, introduced this year, sought to provide driving license exams in an individual’s native language. The bill, sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, was sent to the Senate Rules Committee in the last week of the legislative session, however. Bennion said his previous bill would be reworked during the interim.