NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wisconsin’s state legislature passed the school Indian mascot bill by the narrowest of margins. The state assembly approved the measure, 53-47. The senate approved it, 17-16.
There was a tremendous amount of give-and-take to bring the final bill through the legislature. One of the areas for negotiation was how it would be determined if an Indian logo or mascot was discriminatory or offensive. The bill calls for people who are offended to file a complaint. The Department of Public Instruction would hold hearings about the district’s logo and mascot. Then the DPI would issue a ruling. If the ruling when against the school, they’d have one year to change or face a fine of $1,000 a day.
Many of the lawmakers who voted ‘yes’ said a requirement for winning their vote was having a formal procedure for handling complaints.
Since May when the bill was signed the DPI has made two statements. First, DPI’s leader Tony Evers said publicly that he believes all Indian school names are discriminatory on their face. He telegraphed how his department would rule before the first complaint was filed, before the first hearing was held. This week, Evers said he is considering a summary ruling against all 36 school districts who still use Indian themes even if no complaints have been filed. The process, meticulously negotiated by lawmakers to win the votes they needed, will now be bypassed completely.
Would any of the state senators have changed their votes if they knew the process would be circumvented three months after the bill was signed? If so, this issue could very easily be reversed in 2011.
School districts with Indian mascots will move slowly over the next year. The political winds may blow in a different direction before the fines come due. The DPI’s overreaching will slow down or reverse the change they’d hoped to see.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
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Update 3:35pm 7/31/10
Not long after today’s blog was posted, I received a phone call from Harvey Gunderson. He filed one of the original complaints in the Osseo-Fairchild case.
Mr. Gunderson has been an opponent of Indian mascots and logos for years. He’s attended the hearings, spoken with lawmakers, challenged school districts, and was at the bill’s signing ceremony. He and I have different views on the issue. But he has tremendous background and knowledge about this debate. He was also a gentleman during our conversation.
Mr. Gunderson says the original premise of my blog, that the Department of Public Instruction is attempting to change the rules for Indian mascot hearings, is the subject of an Associated Press retraction/correction today. Our reporting is based on wire reporting from Wheeler News Service. They issued the following revised story this afternoon:
UNDATED (WHEELER) The state’s education agency wants to create a list of Indian nicknames and logos that schools would have to defend if they’re challenged on them.
The Department of Public Instruction held a public hearing yesterday on how it will implement a new state law that sets up a complaint process about schools with Indian monikers. The D-P-I ruled this week that the Osseo-Fairchild Chieftains’ nick-name and logo was racially discriminatory – and it gave the school board a year to change them. Similar complaints are pending against the Mukwonago and Kewaunee districts. Three dozen Wisconsin districts have Indian nicknames. The proposed D-P-I list includes the nicknames Indians, Braves, and Redmen – plus names that use the full or partial name of a federally-recognized tribe. Names with more general terms like Warriors would be considered race-based if the word is used with the depiction of a head-dress, feathers, or other historic Indian clothing, tools, or weapons.
The Legislature would have to approve the D-P-I’s rules once it returns to session next year. School officials from Menomonee Falls testified in opposition. They were concerned about making cash-strapped schools come up with the money for new uniforms, signs, and equipment. But members of the Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force said the focus must remain on removing names that discriminate.
The D-P-I is taking written comments on the new rules until next Wednesday.