Democrats are decrying a bill that would change the process for addressing complaints over a school's use of Native-American themed mascots, but failed to refer the bill back to an Assembly committee.
The amended version of the bill only requires hearings on a mascot dispute if a petition is submitted with signatures equal to 10 percent of the total enrollment of the school district in question. Once a hearing starts, the burden is on the complainant to prove the mascot name promotes discrimination or stereotyping. Currently, only one complaint is needed to trigger the hearing and the burden of proof is on the school.
The bill would also move the hearing from the Department of Public Instruction to the Department of Administration.
Democrats railed against the bill, saying it promotes racism and was insensitive to the state's tribes. They also argued the threshold for triggering the hearing is far too high. Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, passed a print out to colleagues comparing the number of signatures required to trigger the hearing to the number of signatures required for ballot access for school board candidates. In all cases, the mascot signature threshold significantly exceeded the school board signature threshold.
Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Madison, tried to illustrate the offense created by Native-American themed mascots by describing a hypothetical school called the "Podunk Papists," with a mascot that dresses up like the pope and flashes his "ruby red shoes" as he dances.
"That kind of brings it down to our level, because I have a feeling some people in this room just do not understand what this means to the Native American population," Pope said.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca expressed skepticism that Gov. Scott Walker would sign the bill given his regular meetings with state tribal leaders.
"I don't believe that someone who has to meet with the tribes...would feel comfortable meeting with them after passing such a backwards thinking, racially insensitive bill," Barca said.
Rep. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, said he doubted the sincerity of the Democrats in the body, asking why they hadn't called on schools in their districts to recant offensive names, referencing the Hurley High School Midgets. He also said the compromise worked on the bill is appropriate.
"We are leaving in place a process that treats both the accused and the accuser in a fair manner," Craig said.