Late last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills, authored by California State Assembly Member Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), both of which will provide improved rights to non-native English speaking residents in California.

Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Healthcare

On Thursday, the Governor signed Ting’s Assembly Bill (AB) 2102

to improve healthcare for non-native English speaking residents Californians by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare. The bill requires the category “language” to be added to the demographic information collected for healthcare professionals.

Ting was quoted in a press release saying that, although “more Californians have health insurance through Covered California, this may not lead to better health while communication barriers persist.” Without proper communication, Ting later explains, it can be hard to properly diagnose and treat patients, who speak a language other than English. This can, in turn, lead to higher health costs and greater liability for providers. “Now,” according to Ting, “we will have the tools we need to identify and resolve communication barriers so that our medical professionals can communicate in the languages of our communities.”

AB 2102 passed the State Assembly earlier this year with a 52-19 vote, and in the State Senate with a 27-9 vote last week.

Improving Civil Services for English Language Learners

On Friday, Gov. Brown signed another bill, AB 2253. Also authored by Phil Ting, Friday’s bill will further protect the rights of non-native English speaking Californians by “strengthening how they can report language barrier problems with the state government,” according to the press release.

The same release explains that U.S. Census data shows that as many as one out of every five California residents speak English “less than very well.” AB 2253 “will require state agencies to make translated forms available to Californians with limited English language skills so they can report language barriers experienced in accessing state services, both in person and online.”

The Dymally–Alatorre Bilingual Services Act already states that all Californians are to have equal access to public services through a sufficient number of bilingual staff and translated material. According to the press release, a 2010 state audit showed that some state agencies were not meeting these requirements. This is a problem because reportedly as many as 40 percent of Californians are not native English speakers.

Ting was quoted in the press release saying, “By creating better ways for state agencies to be held accountable for their treatment of English language learners, we can better protect the rights of all Californians. Unfortunately, language barriers are so pervasive now that many Californians cannot even articulate when problems exist.”

Addressing the Challenges of California’s Linguistic Diversity

With a fifth of Californians still “English learners,” and nearly half of Californians speaking a language other than English, addressing the challenges of California’s Linguistic diversity can seem daunting. Both bills passed last week are a huge step in protecting the rights of California’s English learners.

Following the 68-8 passing of AB 2253 in the Assembly, Ting stated, “Limited proficiency with the English language must never be an impediment to accessing critical state services.” Ting added, “state law has already outlined this goal but has been lackluster in holding agencies accountable. That’s what we need to do to ensure that we truly have equal access in California.” Governor Brown signature on both bills will hopefully be an important step forward toward equal access across all types of services for California residents.