Court Interpreter Legislation

LANGUAGE ACCESS AT NCSC

The Language Access Services Section (LASS) provides state courts with resources to overcome language barriers in the courts and to ensure that providing individuals with limited English proficiency with access to the courts is a core function of the courts.

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Issue: Court Interpreter Legislation

Impact:

Approval of this legislation would allow states to access federal funds to support state court interpreter programs in areas such as certification, training, and general support.

Position:

State court leaders endorse the concept of a federal court interpreter program assisting the state courts.

Summary:

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced legislation, which would authorize a grant program to support court interpreter efforts in the states (S 1329). This is the same bill that Senator Kohl introduced in the last Congress (S 702). The bill would authorize $15 million (M) in each of the fiscal years 2010-2015. The Department of Justice would award the grants. The grant program follows the model of the Court Improvement Program. The highest state court of each state would be eligible to apply for the funds. States applying for the grant would receive a base amount of $100,000. The remainder of the funds in the appropriated pool would be distributed to the states applying for funds based on the percentage of individuals (5 years or older) who speak other than English at home.

Status:

Senator Kohl reintroduced the State Court Interpreter Grant Program Act (S 1329) on 6/23/09. Our court interpreter legislation is included in Senator Menendez’s comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 1258). This bill was introduced 6/22/11. Introduction of Court Interpreter bill may be close as we have been helping Senator Kohl’s office to gather data. Senator Kohl introduced the State Court Interpreter Grant Program Act of 2012, S. 3365, on 7/10/12. There are differences between last Congress’ bill and S. 3365: For example: overall funding is down to $10M, there is the elimination of technical assistance funds, and a change in the formula distribution of funds. Due to the fiscally austere times, Senator Kohl was only willing to reintroduce the legislation if there was a reduced funding level.

Senator Kohl retired at the end of the 112th Congress.

On 9/13/12, GRO staff had a conference call with DOJ Civil Rights officials on this bill. We discussed issues such as strategy for moving the bill in the next Congress as well as history of the legislation. We are actively seeking a sponsor for our Court Interpreter bill due to Senator Kohl’s retirement. We have made attempts to add the court interpreter bill to the moving Immigration Reform legislation, but it has not been included thus far. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has recently agreed to introduce the legislation to create a court interpreter grant program in 113th Congress.