House legislators spent nearly 30 minutes this week debating a bill that would require the state to add Spanish translations for portions of its legislative website.
Democrats estimated the cost at anywhere from $60,000 to $1.5 million.
The bill was pulled from consideration Tuesday after Republicans produced another estimate:
A GOP legislator demonstrated that Google Translate can do the translations at no cost.
And on Wednesday, State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, emailed House members to show them a way to translate the entire ilga.gov website for free.
“Following up on yesterday’s debate on the House Floor, I would like to offer the following links which can be placed on your district (or any other) website to give constituents easy access to the ilga.gov website in the language of their choice,” Wheeler wrote in the email, which offered options for Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian, Polish, Greek, among other languages, by adding a country’s code in the URL.
The original bill, sponsored by State Rep. Silvana Tabares, D-Chicago, and seven other Democrats, aimed to translate portions of the website — such as weekly schedules for both chambers. Tabares argued it would help to provide better constituent services to the many Spanish speakers in the state, an argument many Democrats backed her on.
“There is a segment, especially in my district, that are Spanish speaking and that follow the General Assembly and as a state representative, I want to commit to continue to have this bill and make sure we provide the best possible constituent services,” Tabares said.
Tabares estimated the cost of the translation, if initial software could not do it alone, at between $60,000 and $100,000 to pay for another website or software company. But she added that if a third party was needed to add Spanish to the site, it would have an estimated cost of between $800,000 to $1.5 million.
That estimate prompted House Republicans to offer up free options, such as Google Translate. It also had Wheeler holding up his own tablet to Democrats to show that he translated the website for free using Google.
“Why are we against a great free bipartisan solution?” State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said before the bill was pulled. “We should have a Kumbaya and have a beer afterwards. Let’s pull this bill out of the record, let’s amend it. Let’s do something that’s free and help people who speak every language.”