AB 1850: A Path to Protect Professional Linguists and the People We Serve?

Will California legislators in the 2020 session fix a state law that leaves more than 75 percent of professional interpreters and translators under the specter of illegality and endangers reliable language access for millions? That depends on AB 1850.


AB 1850 is intended as legislation to clarify and clean up aspects of AB 5, the sweeping 2019 bill on worker misclassification. That bill failed to exempt professional linguists alongside others categorized as “professions and kindred occupations.” It made employee status the only clear safe harbor for professional linguists in California, three-quarters of whom are independent contractors by choice.

After a different cleanup bill, SB 900, was withdrawn by its author Sen. Jerry Hill on May 14, 2020, thousands of highly trained professional linguists are looking carefully at AB 1850 for its potential to alleviate the grave danger facing us and the people we serve. 

AB 1850 passed the Assembly Labor Committee on a 7-0 vote at a hearing at the State Capitol on May 20, 2020. As of May 26, 2020, AB 1850 is moving forward without a key amendment that would prevent further calamity to livelihoods of professional linguists and ruin language access for millions of Californians. 

CoPTIC is working with the bill’s author and state lawmakers to amend AB 1850 to protect all professional translators and interpreters. 

Why Is an Amendment Crucial?

In its current form, AB 1850 includes terms of an exemption under Professional Services, which is positive. But the current terms recognize only “certified translators,” which is problematic. 

The term “certified translators” covers only a tiny sliver of professional linguists and omits ALL interpreters, including signed language interpreters like those who performed at the May 20 hearing. This exclusion has huge negative implications for Californians with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, thousands of highly skilled professional interpreters and translators, and the millions of Californians who depend on us for reliable language access. 

During remarks at the hearing, AB 1850 author Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez recognized that the language of the exemption was a work in progress. Coalition leaders and members, including local constituents in the district of the bill’s author, continue to work with her on its terms to ensure that professional interpreters and translators—many with credentials reflecting years of training, sacrifice, and mastery of their craft—maintain our capacity to practice and serve Californians. 

How Do Interpreters and Translators Show Expertise?

The interpreting and translation professions measure competence through a variety of mechanisms, including peer review and portfolios that detail professional education and experience. 

Certification is only one such mechanism and it’s one that is not available for most language combinations and in many interpreting and translation settings such as public schools, business, and several arenas of public services like transportation, housing, voting and elections and emergency preparedness.  Some entities, such as California Department of Human Resources (CalHR), offer very limited certification (only 6 of the 12 most common languages other than English spoken in California). Furthermore, CalHR discontinued certification in medical and administrative hearing contexts in 2008! 

Interpreters and translators working in languages that have no certification can obtain status to work in some settings, such as court and areas of healthcare, by proving their skill and experience level through peer review and portfolios.

For example, the American Translators Association (ATA) has an active review process  for professional translators and interpreters, which includes evidence of at least 3 years’ work and proof of a degree in the fields. The American Association of Language Specialists (TAALS) has a robust peer-review process for qualifying new interpreters. The U.S. Department of State determines expertise through a rigorous in-house skills-based testing process for professional interpreters and translators in service to our country. The American Translators Association (ATA) and its affiliate Chapters list professional translator and interpreter profiles, showcasing competency.

Key guidelines for competence are cited in:

  • ASTM Standard Practice for Language Interpretation F-2089
  • ASTM Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation F-2575
  • ISO 17100 Requirements for Translation Services
  • ISO 13611 Guidelines for Community Interpreting
  • ISO 18841 Requirements for Interpreting in General
  • ISO 20228 Requirements for Legal Interpreting,
  • ISO/DIS 21998 Standards for Healthcare Interpreting (in progress)

These standards are available and used to assess competence by Language Service Providers (LSPs) and government entities when engaging the services of translators and interpreters.

Why “Certification” Alone is Such a Partial, Improper Standard, with Perilous Ripple Effects  

Only a small fraction of professional translators and interpreters in California are certified, less than 13 percent, based on Census data. This statistic mirrors certification levels across the U.S.

Indeed, reliable language access for millions of Californians depends on thousands of professional linguists who are NOT certified but still highly experienced and conscientious interpreters and translators who meet professional standards, hold advanced degrees, are trained in their trade and demonstrate great competency. We should be able to practice in our state, play our part in ensuring that California’s many laws protecting language access for vulnerable residents continue in force, and continue to serve our neighbors and communities. 

Here are some graphics from the May 2020 report by the independent researchers at NIMDZI, a respected source of data on the language profession. 


This report sheds light on the issues of language access in California and the problematic aspects of certification, which is not the only standard for attaining or showing professional expertise. 

What Can YOU Do to Improve AB 1850? 

Please be in touch with YOUR 2 lawmakers to educate them about the work you do, the professional associations you belong to, the training and continuing education you engage in, the degrees and credentials you hold, and the expert service you provide to the community and the California economy in overcoming language barriers

Ask to discuss AB 1850 and the importance of protecting language access for Californians. Schedule the appointment as soon as possible. Please contact us at coalitionptic@gmail.com  for more information or support.

Here is the locator to find and reach YOUR 2 state lawmakers: 


Click the “find by address” link here to identify the 2 lawmakers who work for YOU: Senator and Assembly Member. 

Then use the easy roster lookup (lower on that same list of links) to get their LOCAL and also their CAPITOL office phone number.

Contact Us