Suffolk Bill Would ‘Ensure Language Assistance’

LILAC coordinator and senior paralegal at Empire Justice Cheryl Keshner speaking at a Suffolk County Legislature public hearing Tuesday in Riverhead. (Photo by Maria Piedrabuena via RiverheadLOCAL)

At a Suffolk County public hearing March 6, members of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition (LILAC) described how bilingual testers had called government agencies with “basic questions” to gauge compliance with a 2012 executive order concerning language services. RiverheadLOCAL’s Maria Piedrabuena reports that with responses ranging from representatives hanging up on callers to insulting them, the coalition determined that “there are very serious problems in terms of training and oversight,” Cheryl Keshner, a senior paralegal at the Empire Justice Center, said.

To improve access to language services, advocates are pushing for the passage of a bill that would mandate language assistance for those with limited English skills.

The bill sponsored by County Legislator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) would codify a 2012 executive order by County Executive Steve Bellone directing county agencies to offer language access services to people of limited English proficiency, offering translation of vital documents in the six most frequent languages and access to interpretation using phone access lines.

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Additionally this bill would expand language access requirements to agencies run by other elected officials, such as the sheriff’s, comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices, said Keshner.

Bellone’s executive order follows state and federal bills mandating the same, Keshner told legislators.

She explained how a Justice Department investigation into the death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in 2008 led to the implementation of language services in the county. Read more at RiverheadLOCAL.

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