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Report: Wis. Governor Plans to Sign School Mascot Bill

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker plans to sign a bill this week that would limit the state's ability to force a school to change its team name or mascot, per Patrick Marley and Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  

The state enacted a law in 2010 that allowed residents of a school district to challenge names and mascots that they believed to promote a negative racial stereotype. (Read more on that here.) After being presented a challenge, the state schools superintendent would have ultimate say over whether the district must change the mascot.

Earlier this year, however, Republican Assembly members introduced a bill that would seemingly make it easier for districts to keep their contested names and mascots. Any resident seeking to file a mascot-related complaint would need to submit signatures equal to at least 10 percent of the district's membership. The burden of proof would also be shifted from the districts (which, under the current law, must prove the mascots are not discriminatory) to the resident filing the complaint, who would be required under this bill to prove the mascot is discriminatory.

Walker empathized with the supporters of the original law, but expressed his belief that the decision should lie in the hands of local districts, not state officials.

"If it were me, personally, I'd find a way to move away from nicknames or mascots that certain groups of our fellow citizens seriously found to be offensive," Walker said to Marley and Stein on Tuesday. "I get the concern" of opponents, he said, "but the counterbalance to that that I'm looking at is, by the same token, from a free speech standpoint...where do you draw the line on free speech?"

If Walker doesn't act on the bill by Thursday, it will automatically become law. He told the two Journal Sentinel reporters that he's planning on taking action on the bill one way or another before that deadline, however.

The state Assembly passed the bill on a 52-41 vote back in mid-October. It barely squeaked through the Senate on a 17-16 vote in early November. Similar legislation was introduced by 17 Assembly Republicans back in 2011, but neither the Assembly nor the Senate passed it.  

As I reported earlier this week, Wisconsin isn't the only U.S. locale dealing with contentious mascot issues. The Houston Independent School District board of education tentatively approved a policy last week that would prohibit the use of any race or ethnic group as a school's mascot or nickname.

Back in February, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights asking for a ban on the use of American Indian mascots and imagery in K-12 schools that receive federal funds. However, the civil-rights office dismissed the complaint in June due to insufficient evidence of specific harm suffered by students due to said mascots.

UPDATE (Dec. 20, 11 a.m. ET): The governor signed the bill into law on Thursday, per the Journal Sentinel. It will take effect Saturday, the paper reports.  

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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