The Wisconsin Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make it harder to force public schools to drop American Indian nicknames. Senate Republicans passed the bill 17-16. It will now go to Republican Governor Scott Walker's desk for approval.
Walker has been noncommittal on the bill, a spokesman saying he will evaluate it when it reaches his desk.
The current law in Wisconsin, passed in 2010, requires the state Department of Public Instruction to hold a hearing on a school's race-based nickname if the agency receives a single complaint. Then it's up to the school to prove the nickname isn't discriminatory. The DPI then makes a ruling.
Under the new bill, someone complaining about a school's nickname would be required to collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the school district's population to trigger a state review. Then the complainant would have to prove discrimination at the hearing. The bill would also invalidate all previous DPI orders forcing schools to drop their nicknames.
Three Wisconsin school districts have been ordered to change their nicknames, two of which were "Indians" and one "Chieftains." However, one school refused, saying the name has been used for 80 years and would cost around $100,000 to change.
According The Journal Times, Democrats are branding the new bill a "return to darkness," and arguing it promotes racism in schools.
"It took us a long time to overcome slavery and we still struggle to overcome the N-word," said Senator Lena Taylor, a Milwaukee Democrat who is African-American. "I hope it makes you uncomfortable when you hear me say it. I wish we were as uncomfortable with savages, redskins and Indians."