Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: DEAF AND HARD OF HEARING TELL LEGISLATORS WHAT TO DO

Sign language interpreters seek regulation

Almost all of us use sign language. Even if you are not deaf or hard of hearing, you probably sometimes use sign language instead of swearing in anger. Nearly everyone realizes that pointing upward with the middle finger is a curse. And it’s now supposedly “cool” for people to knock knuckles in a “fist bump.”

American Sign Language is the native tongue for some 42,000 Coloradans who are deaf and 350,000 more who are hard of hearing, and ASL interpreters create the communication link between hearing persons and deaf persons.

ASL interpreters have been trying to have the state regulate their trade since 1991. The most recent attempt is a Sunrise review from January 2009, which is valid for the Department of Regulatory Agencies through 2010.

Next year may offer the best possible opportunity for success because, under the Sunset Law, the Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is scheduled to be either repealed or renewed in 2010. Potentially, the commission could list ASL interpreters who qualify for pay on a monthly basis.

Isn’t there already regulation? The state has 203 certified sign language interpreters, most of whom were certified through a program created under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That program defines “minimum competency” as the ability to interpret both receptively and expressively, putting words into sign and sign back into words.

The ADA requires Colorado’s Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to regulate interpreters employed in K-12 education settings and in legal settings such as court.

There are many subsets of interpreters with subtle differences in approach. But those who are regulated nationally meet the requirements of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or the National Association for the Deaf (NAD), which qualifies different standards for experience and class work. In 2004, the two groups produced a National Interpreter Certification (NIC) test for interpreters not already listed under RID or NAD.

How many uncertified interpreters are there in Colorado? According to the Colorado Association for the Deaf, the agency that’s applying for certification, there are 500. The applicant suggests those not certified be required to pass NIC testing to obtain title protection. Such passage assures minimum competency.

According to DORA, beginning in July 2009, candidates for certification must meet education requirements that become more stringent over time. By 2016, a bachelor’s degree will be required.

According to DORA, of the seven states contiguous to Colorado, five — Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Utah and, now, New Mexico — regulate all language interpreters. Arizona requires national RID certification in order for an interpreter to be paid for services. Only Wyoming does not regulate.

Is ADA approval the answer? The cost to the state would be minor. However, professional fees are apt to rise as the pool of qualified interpreters is limited through regulation, and interpreters are required to take the written and performance sections of the NIC test at a cost of $500.

Sometimes DORA has to provide “tough-love” to avoid lulling potential victims so they have confidence in incompetent practitioners. Something as small as creating a monthly listing of interpreters who qualify for pay might be enough to convince interpreters not covered by the ADA to choose that regulation in order to be paid for their services.

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As a legislator, I spent a lot of time amending other people’s bills. But here is one amendment I never offered until now:

Defrauding an innkeeper. If a “guest” walks out of a hotel or restaurant without paying a bill of $520, he or she can be charged under CRS 12-44-102. But a scofflaw who stops at the front desk and pays by fraudulent check can be charged under CRS 18-5-205.

However, the penalties are less severe as to misdemeanor under CRS 12-44-102, and the defendant has the right to seek to be charged under the lesser statute for the same fraud of not paying the business the $520 owing.

Solution: Change the penalty in CRS 12-44-102, which now reads: “A person who, with the intent to defraud, procures food or accommodations from the public establishment without making payment therefore in accordance with his or her agreement with the public establishment, is guilty of a misdemeanor if the total amount due under the agreement is $1,000 or less.”

Upon conviction (he or she) shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500 or by imprisonment (in the county jail) for not more than 90 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Under CRS 18-5-205, paying by a check you know is fraudulent is a Class Two misdemeanor if the sum of less than $500 and a Class One misdemeanor if it’s for $500 or more but less then $1,000.

Class One misdemeanor penalty is a minimum of six months in prison or a $500 fine or both, and possibly up to 18 months in jail or a $5,000 fine, or both. A Class Two misdemeanor is the lesser of three months in prison or a $250 fine or both, or possibly up to 12 months in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.

If the fraudulent check is for $1,000 or more, it is a Class Six felony under CRS 18-5-205. Walking out the door under CRS 12-44-102 if the bill is MORE than $1,000 is a Class Six felony.

I’d suggest a review of similar penalties to see how many clash with CRS 18-5-205.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.