Bills expanding use of court interpreters advancing in California, Illinois, and Rhode Island

Bills expanding the use of court interpreters have advanced in three states in the last 10 days.

In California the Assembly Judiciary Committee approved AB 1657, a bill that would expressly authorize the court to provide a court interpreter in any civil action or proceeding at no cost to the parties, regardless of the income of the parties. The bill would require interpreters to be provided in accordance with a specified order of priority, if sufficient funds are not appropriated to provide an interpreter to every party who needs one. AB 1657 was approved 10-0 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on April 28 and 17-0 by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 7.

At almost the same time as the California Assembly Appropriations vote, the full Illinois Senate approved SB 977 to create a 2-year pilot program for the use of court interpreters for jurors in the state’s five largest counties (Cook, Lake, DuPage, Kane, and Will). The bill provides

if any juror’s predominant language is not English, the juror may be accompanied by an interpreter. In the case of a non-English speaking juror, the interpreter shall be available throughout the actual trial and may accompany and communicate with the juror throughout any period during which the jury is sequestered or engaged in its deliberations.

SB 977 then requires the court set reasonable fees for the interpreter out of county funds and that the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts is to monitor and report out on the program.

The third item that recently moved was Rhode Island’s HB 7306. As approved by the House on April 30. HB 7306 rewrites three key provisions related to court interpreters.

The first modified a legislative policy declaration that favored court interpretation only in certain courts in dealing with criminal matters.

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state of Rhode Island to guarantee the rights of persons who, because of a non-English speaking background, are unable to readily understand or communicate in the English language, and who consequently need the assistance of an interpreter be fully protected in legal proceedings in criminal matters before the Rhode Island superior court, the Rhode Island district court, and in juvenile matters in the Rhode Island family court unified state court system.

Other references throughout various statutes discussing interpretation only in the context of criminal proceedings would also be amended out or repealed.

The second removes references to “non-English speaking person” and replaces with a newly defined term “limited English proficient person”

Current law: A “non-English speaking person” means any person who can not readily speak or understand the English language and whose native language is either Spanish, Portuguese, Cape Verdean or Cambodian.

Proposed new law: A “limited English proficient person” means any person whose primary language is not English and who does not have the ability to adequately understand or communicate effectively in English.

The definition on “qualified interpreter” (as opposed to a certified interpreter) would also change from “a person who through experience and training is able to translate a particular foreign language into English but who does not have a state certification” to “a person who is able to interpret simultaneously and consecutively and sight translate from English into a foreign language and from said language into English but who is not certified.”

The third shifts responsibility for certification of interpreters. Presently “the state department of higher education in cooperation with the supreme court shall promulgate regulations which establish standards, criteria and testing methods for the certification of foreign language interpreters“. HB 7306 removes references to the state department of higher education, providing instead “the administrative office of the courts with the approval of supreme court shall promulgate standards, criteria and testing methods for the certification of foreign language interpreters…”