Lombardo budget funds $25 million to help non-English speakers access state government
Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office is looking to allocate $25 million to fund a program requiring state government agencies develop “language access plans” that explain state services and functions to non-English speakers.
AB480, which has been exempted from legislative deadlines, was heard for the first time in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. The $25 million was set aside as a one-shot expenditure in Lombardo’s budget.
Catherine Nielsen, the executive director of the Nevada Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, said during the hearing that for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, language accessibility goes “beyond English” and allows for equal access to documents and information by including American Sign Language, Braille, large print and audio.
“It's critical for life that all members of this community can receive information and services in their native language,” Nielsen said. “Language access reduces barriers to accessing information and protects people from harm and connects people with varying languages and communication styles.”
Language access plans were created by 2021’s SB318, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) that mainly focused on requiring state and local health districts to ensure that people with limited English proficiency have “meaningful and timely access to services to restrain the spread of COVID-19.” The bill also included language requiring each agency of the executive branch — boards, commissions, bureaus, councils and departments — to create and revise a language access plan every two years.
As required by Nevada law, language access plans must outline how agencies are using state funds received to expand the availability and accessibility of language services for people with limited English proficiency, including recruiting fluent staff or interpreters. The 2021 bill contained no appropriations, and several state agencies submitted fiscal notes suggesting that implementing the bill would cost money.
State agencies are also required to report back recommendations to expand the language services, relevant demographics, popular languages sought and the ratio between employees who regularly have contact with the public and the number of such employees who are fluent in more than one language.
If there is insufficient information available to develop or update the language access plan, the agency is required to develop procedures to obtain that information. Agencies can also seek the public’s opinions about their language access plan.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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