A bill being circulated in the Legislature would move to allow tests required for asbestos-removal supervisors to be offered in languages other than English, which could help more Spanish-speaking workers take on leadership roles in the industry.
Currently, initial and refresher courses required for asbestos supervisors are only offered in English. The bill, which has yet to be introduced, would direct the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to offer such courses in other languages, too. Current rules allow entry-level asbestos worker certifications to be offered in languages other than English, but not supervisor certifications. The proposed bill, however, relies on similar federal rule changes to take effect.
It’s a measure that Rep. Rob Steffen, R-Green Bay, said he worked to author after a business owner in Green Bay raised the problem. Steffen said the business owner told him he had qualified Spanish-speaking employees who performed asbestos abatement work, but that the workers would have been forced to take a test in English to earn credentials they need to move into a supervisory role.
“You’ve got people that are unable to move up the ladder because English is the only language offered,” Steffen said. “I thought is was an opportunity to change that.”
With such a pronounced need for skilled workers in Wisconsin, allowing certifications to be taken in other languages would help companies find and train more workers, Steffen said. Workers who learned other languages before English wouldn’t be shut out of higher-paying jobs they could be qualified for, he said.
A draft of the proposal was released on Wednesday and will be circulated for co-sponsors through Nov. 27 before it’s introduced. The bill has picked up bipartisan support, with Rep. Marisabel Cabrera, D-Milwaukee, signed on as a co-author.
The bill — if it’s successful — won’t change the law overnight, however. The DHS relies on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for asbestos courses. So without a change in federal law allowing other languages to be used in training courses or certifications, the bill can’t take effect if it passes in Wisconsin.
Steffen, however, said the bill would make sure that Wisconsin law reflects federal changes when they take effect. He said such a bill also puts pressure on the state’s federal lawmakers to push for such a change. Follow @natebeck9