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Indian mascot bill reaches governor's desk

MADISON (WRN)  Republicans in the state Senate pass legislation that would make it harder to challenge race-based nicknames, logos, and mascots used by a Wisconsin public school.

Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) offered a substitute amendment — a compromise — which failed. ”Again, there’s a rumor mongering that somehow or another GLITC (Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council) has a secret agenda to do away with all Native American Based mascots.” Schultz says, “Well, I don’t think that that’s necessarily a secret. I mean, if your race was being demeaned and vilified wouldn’t you want to end that too?”

Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) says her ancestors were called an offensive word, but that language is no longer accepted. She used the actual N-word five times on the Senate floor, saying everyone should be uncomfortable hearing it, and we should have the same reaction when using sports team names that are discriminatory toward Native Americans. “I hope it makes you uncomfortable when you hear me say it. And I wish that we were as uncomfortable with savages, Indians and redskins.” 

Under current law, the state Department of Public Instruction is required to hold a hearing on the issue if the agency gets just one complaint about the nickname. In order to keep the name, the school has to prove that it does not promote discrimination or stereotyping.

The new bill (AB-297) requires those challenging a mascot to collect petition signatures from district residents equal to 10 percent of the school’s population in order to trigger a review. They would then have to prove that a mascot creates discrimination.

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) says the new bill is fair to all parties, while the 2010 law presumed discrimination and gave no deference to communities who did not believe the mascots were offended.Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) says “there’s no gray area whatsoever” in this issue. “If a person of a race who you say you are trying to ‘honor’ tells you they’re offended, it’s offensive. Period. And the more you try and explain why you don’t think it’s offensive, the stupider you sound.”

Democrats spent more than 3 1/2 hours Tuesday criticizing the bill, which passed the Assembly last month and now goes to the governor’s desk.

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