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Wis. Assembly approves mascots bill

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Associated Press
October 16, 2013

MADISON, Wis. — Assembly Republicans passed a contentious bill Tuesday that would make it harder to strip public schools of American Indian mascots, sending the proposal on to the Senate despite Democrats’ complaints that the measure is racist.

Democrats railed against the bill for 2 hours on the Assembly floor, taking turns blasting it as an ugly step backward in race relations.

“Indians are real people. They’re not mascots,” said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range. “Stand up for human rights and human dignity.”

The bill comes as the Mukwonago Area School District is fighting a state Department of Public Instruction order to drop its “Indians” nickname and logo depicting an American Indian man in a headdress. District officials say they’ve used the nickname for more than 80 years; their lawyers say it could cost around $100,000 to change it.

The bill’s author, Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, represents most of Mukwonago in the Assembly. He defended the bill on the floor, saying the current process for ordering schools to drop their nicknames is too slanted toward complainants and doesn’t give districts a fair chance to defend their beloved monikers.

“What’s on the books right now is basically an outright ban,” Nass said. “Right now the school district is guilty.”

Under current state law, DPI must hold a hearing on a school’s race-based nickname if the agency receives a single complaint about it. The school must prove the nickname doesn’t promote discrimination at a hearing. DPI then decides whether the name must go.

Nass’ bill would require a complainant to collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the school district’s population to trigger a review.

The complainant would have to prove discrimination. The Department of Administration, not DPI, would make the final call on whether the school could retain the name. The bill also would invalidate all previous DPI orders forcing schools to drop their nicknames. In addition to Mukwonago, the agency has ordered Osseo-Fairchild to drop its Chieftains nickname and Berlin High School to ditch its Indians moniker.

Democrats called the signature requirement an insurmountable hurdle to filing a complaint. In Mukwonago, for example, a complainant would need about 475 people to agree that “Indians” is offensive. They argued people who have experienced discrimination don’t need anyone else to validate their feelings.

“This isn’t due process. This is no process,” Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, said. “This bill is just another racial insult.”

Milroy said the Assembly is debating the bill because Mukwonago feels entitled to a “ridiculous caricature of a supposed American Indian.”

Republicans control the Assembly 57-39, making passage all but certain. The final vote was 52-41. Nass released a statement after the vote declaring victory.

“We reformed a flawed politically correct law by replacing it with a fair process to address any potential inappropriate use of Indian logos, mascots and team names,” he said. “No longer will the mere existence of an Indian logo, mascot and team name automatically be construed as a violation of state law.”

Republicans control the Senate 18-15, making passage likely in that chamber. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, initially announced he planned to convene on Wednesday morning to take up the bill. But his spokesman later sent an email to reporters saying the chamber would take up the measure in November. Fitzgerald said in a telephone interview Democrats wouldn’t give him the two-thirds vote he would have needed to bring the bill up on Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t taken a position on the measure yet. His spokesman didn’t immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday evening.



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