House and Senate Republicans are pushing for English to be Minnesota's official language, a move that would require most government business, including meetings, documents and other services, to be conducted in English only.

The Senate bill, introduced Monday, also would bar the state from issuing a driver's license to anyone who cannot understand English and would require applicants to pass the test without an interpreter.

"We need to send a message to immigrants, no matter where they come from, that learning English is essential," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who introduced the Senate bill Monday. "And that they have the responsibility to learn our nation's language." A similar House bill has already been introduced.

The Senate bill would make exceptions for public health and safety, criminal defense and American Indian languages. It would repeal existing law that requires state agencies to employ bilingual employees.

Ingebrigtsen said the bill would free cities and the state from a variety of translation costs, but he had no projections of estimated savings.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen called the legislation a "distraction" from fixing the state's fiscal problems. "It sends the wrong signal about Minnesota and where we're positioned in the global economy," Thissen said.

GOP legislators have introduced similar bills during past sessions, but the efforts gained little traction when there were DFL majorities.

New Republican majorities may have enough votes to pass the legislation, but it could face a veto from Gov. Mark Dayton, who opposed the measure on the campaign trail.

More than 20 states have similar legislation. Most recently, voters in Oklahoma approved a ballot measure making English their official language, though it is now being challenged on First Amendment grounds.

The Minnesota Legislature's "English-only" push comes on the heels of a similar high-profile resolution that passed this summer in Lino Lakes. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty endorsed the measure and said the state should consider doing the same.

Immigrants'-rights advocates at the time said that making English the state's official language would penalize legal residents who do not speak English.

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210