Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law on Monday that would allow Utahns with limited English proficiency to take their driver license exam in a language besides English.
The law, authored by state Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, would require the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Driver License Division to provide driver license tests in the top five languages spoken in the state.
Under the law, it will be up to the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs to determine the state’s five most spoken languages after English. A 2016 report by the Utah Department of Health listed English, Spanish, Chinese, German and Navajo as Utah’s top five most spoken languages.
During his monthly news conference on PBS Utah last week, Cox said he supported the bill. When asked if he would sign the proposed legislation, Cox, in Spanish said, “Of course.”
“We were very excited for this bill. [It’s] something we worked on and something that we supported,” he said. “We can’t wait to sign it as soon as I get a chance to go through that bill.”
The new law comes as the state experiences rapid growth among its Latino population. In the last decade Utah’s Hispanic communities grew 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 license tests in more than one language, including neighboring states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Idaho.
Taking a driver license exam in a language besides English is currently only reserved for refugees and immigrants who have been granted asylum.
Last year, 367 driver license tests were offered in Spanish. Other top translated languages include Swahili, Arabic, Tigre 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, proceedings, meetings and publications to be in English. That bill was prompted by government officials’ need to communicate critical COVID-19 messaging to the state’s immigrant communities, who were hard hit by the pandemic.
A more expansive bill, HB130, introduced this year, sought to offer driver license exams in an individual’s native language. The bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, however, was sent to the Senate Rules Committee during the final week of the legislative session. Bennion indicated that her previous bill would be worked on further during the interim.