Driver’s license exams in Missouri would be administered only in English under a bill advancing in the House.

HB 167 has been promoted as common-sense legislation; you need to read English to read traffic signs. But sponsor Jerry Nolte, a Republican from Gladstone, also told colleagues about an Oklahoma couple that demanded to be able to take a driver’s test in a language other than the 11 the state offered.

“As a result of not being able to take the test, they then sued the state of Oklahoma,” Nolte said during House floor debate. “As a result of that, Oklahoma passed similar legislation to what we’re talking about right now.”

Missouri offers the driver’s exam in 11 languages as well.

Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-St. Louis) framed the issue in economic terms, arguing that the legislation will cost the state jobs.

“Forward-thinking companies welcome diversity, including ethnic diversity,” Oxford said during floor debate, “and when Missouri broadcasts its bigotry so publicly on the floor of this House, it doesn’t do anything to attract one job to Missouri.”

A few representatives from the St. Louis area say the legislation will undermine the ability of legal immigrants to find work. An amendment to allow legal immigrants to take the test in their native language the first time, then have to take it in English in five years was rejected. The House advanced the measure on a voice vote. If it passes a roll call vote, it moves on to the Senate.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:60 MP3]