Jerry Kopel

Sign Language

Aug. 20, 2009

By Jerry Kopel

Almost all of us use sign language. If you are not deaf or hard of hearing you likely use sign language instead of swearing in anger. Just the middle finger pointing up, or two fingers in the position of the horns of a bull creates a message that everyone understands. Knuckles knocking on another's knuckles is supposedly "cool."

There are 42,000 Colorado deaf among us plus 350,000 others hard of hearing. Sign language is their language. Interpreters are the communication link between hearing persons and deaf persons.

Since 1991, the interpreters have tried to obtain regulation for those paid for their work. The most recent attempt is a Sunrise review from January 2009,which is valid for the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies through 2010.

Next year may be the best possible for success because the Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is scheduled for repeal or renewal in 2010 under the Sunset law. The commission would be a valuable place to list on a monthly basis interpreters who qualify for pay.

Isn't there already regulation? We have 203 certified sign language interpreters, mostly certified through service provided under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires minimum competency as being able to interpret both receptively and expressively, putting words into signage and signage back into words.

The ADA requires Colorado to regulate interpreters through education settings (kindergarten through 12th grade) and in the legal setting such as court appearances through the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

There are many subsets of interpreters with subtle differences in approach. But those who are regulated nationally are through a Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and given different qualifications of competency by the National Association for the Deaf (NAD). In 2004 the two groups produced a National Interpreter Certification test (NIC) available for persons not already under RID and NAD.

How many uncertified interpreters are there in Colorado. According to the Sunrise applicant, the Colorado Association for the Deaf, there are 500 uncertified. 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 of 2009 candidates certification have been required to have greater higher education degrees up to a bachelor's degree being needed by applicants for ADA certification in 2016.

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

Is ADA approval the answer? The cost to the state would be minor. However it could possibly limit the number of interpreters while potentially increasing the fees they would charge. Currently the written and performance sections of the NIC Test costs $500.

Sometimes DORA has to provide "tough-love" to avoid having lulled potential victims to incompetent practitioners. Something as small as creating a monthly listing of interpreters who qualify for pay may convince these interpreters not covered by ADA to choose that regulation in order to be paid for their services.

* * *

As a legislator I spent a lot of time amending bills of others. 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 12-4-102. But if he or she stops at the front desk and pays by fraudulent check, he or she 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 presently 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 2 misdemeanor if the sum of less than $500 and a Class One misdemeanor if done for $500 or more but less then $1,000.

Class One misdemeanor penalty is a minimum of 6 months in prison or a $500 fine or both, and possibly up to 18 months in jail or a $5000 fine, or both. Class 2 misdemeanor is the less of three months in prison or a $250 fine or both, or possibly up to 12 months in jail or $1,000 fine, or both.

If paid by fraudulent check of $1,000 or more, it is a Class 6 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 6 felony.

Suggestion is also for drafting to review similar type penalties to see how many clash with CRS 18-5-205.


(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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