The Lucas County clerk of courts stated he could remember as a youth that a lot of his classmates could not speak English. So the passage of bilingual driver’s license legislation became a hot topic in the late 1960s.
“It was a really big issue back then that they were doing this,” said Bernie Quilter. “He got a lot of support for it. The Hispanic community was overwhelmed by it. They loved that he did this. It was the first time anything like this was done; Ohio one of the first states to do this. It worked out well. He was always well-respected in the Hispanic community for it. They didn’t forget.”
The legislation finally passed in 1968 with bipartisan support that Quilter had engineered across the aisle. The bill read in part:
“Except as otherwise provided in this rule, the department of public safety may develop versions of the knowledge portion of the examination required by paragraphs (A) and (B) of this rule that can be taken in languages other than English in written or electronic form. If an applicant for a driver's license wishes to take the knowledge examination in a language other than English, an interpreter may provide translation assistance to the applicant unless the department has developed a written or electronic version of the examination in a language in which the applicant is fluent, in which case the applicant must take that written or electronic version of the examination without the assistance of an interpreter.”
Quilter explained the legislation allowed migrant farmworkers and others to get jobs. He plans to display the award in his office at the Lucas County Common Pleas Courthouse. He also stated it’s a legacy of public service to all communities his father left him. For example, the younger Quilter has made it so Spanish-speakers can look up court cases bilingually on the clerk of courts website. All the brochures are printed in multiple languages.
“Our community is an ethnic community—and that’s what we can never forget. We’re a very diverse community here,” he said. “You try to take good care of everyone you possibly can.”
Quilter stated he admired his father for helping people even in retirement. He explained that former constituents would call him directly with problems, thinking he was still in the state legislature. But the late Quilter would still make calls to Columbus to help out individuals with unemployment or disability assistance—even to get a soldier home in time for a funeral.
But the late state rep did more than sponsor legislation. His son explained that the older Quilter coached Golden Gloves boxing locally, teaching dozens of Latino young men along the way the greater nuances of stepping into the ring.
Quilter served as a Democratic state lawmaker from 1967 to 1994, nearly two decades of that in the House leadership. He rose to the rank of Speaker Pro-Tem. His length of public service preceded term limits imposed on state legislators who came after his retirement.