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Assembly OKs bill that prohibits businesses from refusing to serve non-English speakers

August 20, 2009 |  2:45 pm

Lelandyee There could soon be a new protected class of citizens in California: business patrons who speak a language other than English.

Today the state Assembly approved a measure that would prohibit restaurants and other establishments from refusing to serve patrons because they’re speaking a different language.

Although state law already provides civil rights protections, Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) felt the rules needed to be extended after a language issue arose with the Ladies Professional Golf Assn.

The LPGA, which has many foreign-born players and international sponsors, considered adopting a policy to suspend players who do not speak English, saying they needed a full command of the language to deal with American media and sponsors of the U.S.-based tour.

Though the LPGA quickly dropped the idea after civil rights groups protested, Yee ran with the issue.

His bill, which passed on a 47-25 vote largely along party lines, must go to the Senate for approval of final amendments and then would go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not indicated whether he will sign it.

Speaking a native language is protected in cases of employment and housing under existing California law, but that protection does not cover consumer issues.

In a press release, Yee heralded his bill as a “landmark,” saying no one should be discriminated against “simply for speaking their language.”

-- Eric Bailey reporting from Sacramento

Photo: Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), at an event in Oakland in July, introduced the legislation. Credit: Sean Donnelly / Associated Press