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Calif. lawmaker questions LPGA language policy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California state senator said Thursday that he's seeking a legal opinion to determine whether the LPGA Tour's language requirement for players violates state or federal law.

Sen. Leland Yee is upset about a policy that requires players to speak effective English starting in 2009. The rule is effective immediately for new players, while veteran members will be suspended if they can't pass an oral English test.

The LPGA Tour expects to have the policy written by the end of the year.

Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, said the rule might violate California laws covering workplace discrimination or disabilities. He expects an answer from the state Legislative Counsel's Office within a few weeks, before the tour returns to California.

If the office determines the language rule is legal, Yee said he will introduce a bill to prohibit the policy from being enforced when the tour comes to California.

The LPGA policy is "an absolute slap in the face of women, minorities, immigrants,'' Yee said.

State and federal civil rights laws were designed to prevent the type of discrimination he said is embodied by the LPGA Tour policy.

"Even though you may be the best golfer, you may not be the winner,'' he said. "That's wrong.''

LPGA Tour officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yee said the tour's policy might be illegal because it will erect a barrier for players who are deaf or mute, as well as those who don't speak English.

It also might break laws or run counter to legal precedent regarding discrimination in the workplace. Yee noted that California courts overturned a state law requiring hospital workers to speak English.

Yee filed his request with the state legal office Wednesday.

If the lawyers see a possible federal violation, Yee said he will turn that finding over to California's congressional delegation.

He said his goal is to find a legal objection before the LPGA Tour event Oct. 2-5 at Half Moon Bay, which is in his legislative district. The tour plays at a Danville country club, also in the San Francisco Bay area, Oct. 9-12 before heading to China, South Korea, Japan and Mexico.

The tour includes 121 international players from 26 countries, including 45 from South Korea.

California Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, the only Korean-American in the Legislature, said she is disappointed with the tour's policy.

The Hayward Democrat said she's looking into regulating professional golf through the state's athletic commission, which is overseen by the Legislature.

Hayashi, who lived in South Korea until she was 13 and married a Japanese-American, said she is not satisfied with the LPGA's explanation for the rule - so players can more easily mingle with sponsors as a way to help their "professional development.''

She said no other major sports association has such a policy.

"Speaking English has nothing to do with how good you are at golf,'' she said.

Meanwhile, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center has scheduled a news conference Friday in Los Angeles, where it will be joined by civil rights groups and elected officials demanding the LPGA overturn its policy.

If the tour refuses, state Assemblyman Ted Lieu said civil rights advocates will try to persuade companies to drop their sponsorships.

"I can only conclude this is borderline racist,'' said Lieu, a Southern California Democrat who is chairman of the state's 10-member Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. "It'd be like France requiring Lance Armstrong to pass a French test.''

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Associated Press Writer Judy Lin in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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