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9:38 AM Fri, Dec. 14th

Lawmakers want all insurance contracts in English

Proposal would invalidate contracts in Spanish invalid

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley (Capitol Media Services, file)

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley (Capitol Media Services, file)

PHOENIX — Saying voters made English the official language of the state, the House of Representatives voted Thursday to spell out in law that versions of insurance contracts in that language are valid, even if customers are given copies in another language that promise something else.

HB 2083 is being pushed by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, at the behest of several insurance companies.

Livingston said that some insurers and agents are afraid to offer policies and explanatory documents in a language other than English for fear the translation may not accurately reflect what the company is offering. Under current law, he said, that opens the door to litigation.

With his measure, any version in Spanish -- or any other language -- would be legally irrelevant.

Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said she sees the change as opening the door for situations where Spanish-speaking customers will end up buying insurance based on some mis-translated document and only later find out they didn’t get the coverage they wanted.

But Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, was unsympathetic.

“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the public school system for English language learning,” he said. “Everybody’s given an equal opportunity to learn the language so that when it comes time for them to be an adult and look through a contract and understand what they’re signing up for, they have a clear understanding of what that is, what the words mean.”

And Finchem said there’s something else: a 2006 voter-approved initiative declaring English to be the official language of the state. He said 1.1 million people -- 74 percent of those who turned out -- “agreed that it would be best to have a single official language.”

Blanc, however, worried that the legislation, if signed into law, would effectively overrule Department of Insurance regulations that require all non-English documents used to sell insurance be accurately translated.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, dismissed that concern.

“The fraud statutes still apply,” he said. “So they cannot willfully, materially misrepresent the initial English contract or the translation thereof.”

And Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said he sees the measure as actually being a benefit to consumers for whom English is not their first language.