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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Tacoma legislator wants Wellpinit to abandon Redskins mascot

OLYMPIA – Wellpinit High School could be banned from calling its team “Redskins.” Businesses could have to make more accommodations for pregnant women. A controversial tollway in Western Washington could have to change the way it charges motorists.

These are some of the early ideas of lawmakers preparing for the upcoming 2016 legislative session.

Although the Legislature doesn’t convene until Jan. 11, some legislators are not waiting to propose laws; “pre-filing” of bills and resolutions already has begun.

Among them is a proposal by Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, to make it illegal for a public school to call its team the Redskins by the start of the 2017-18 school year. The bill calls that “a disparaging racial reference to Native Americans and has an undeniable connotation with the historical mistreatment of Native American people that this state and this country has actively attempted to reject.” Any school that was still using the team name at the start of that school year would have to at least be making “reasonable efforts within its budget” to replace it with a new name on uniforms, signs and other equipment.

“It’s a racial justice issue to me,” said Sawyer, a member of the House committee that handles Indian affairs. “I don’t think that people should ever be mascots.”

He’s not thinking about restrictions on team names like Vikings or Saxons, or venturing into controversies over naming schools for people who owned slaves. He has tracked the national controversy over the name surrounding the NFL team in Washington, D.C., he said.

A few years ago, there were several schools that had that name, but the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association believes the only one left is Wellpinit High School, which is far away from Sawyer’s legislative district. The Wellpinit School Board has asked parents if they support a change, and the parents have said no, Mike Seyler, board vice chairman, said. Wellpinit is home to the headquarters of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.

As many as 94 percent of the students attending Wellpinit schools are of Native American descent, although not all are enrolled tribal members, Seyler said.

The high school team has been called the Redskins since the early 1900s, he said. Seyler is a member of the Spokane Tribe, doesn’t find the name offensive and doesn’t know “why the Legislature would even care.” One part of Sawyer’s bill he finds particularly troubling – a requirement to change the name without money to pay for it.

“They’re always giving us mandates without money,” he said.

Among other pre-filed bills are companion proposals in the House and Senate known as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. It would require employers to provide certain accommodations – including more frequent bathroom breaks, temporary lighter duty, or access to water and snacks during the workday – for pregnant workers. Supporters say it has the backing of such groups as NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Legal Voice and Mom’s Rising.

Sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, said she became aware of problems recently when she was pregnant and serving in the Legislature: “If a state lawmaker has to use the leverage of her position to get accommodations, what can a less powerful worker like a grocery clerk expect?”

Also submitted ahead of the session is a proposal with several changes to the toll system on Interstate 405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood. It would limit the tolls to one Express Toll Lane each way in that corridor and and make all lanes toll-free from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., and on holidays.

The Express Lane has variable tolls, which can be as low as 75 cents in light traffic and as high as $10 in extremely heavy traffic. Since it opened in September, legislators have fielded complaints about congestion, safety and glitches paying tolls.

Other pre-filed bills suggest:

    • Banning fireworks and outdoor burning from June 1 through Sept. 30 next year to prevent wildfires.
    • Changing the way the state awards its presidential delegates to the Electoral College so the candidate with the most votes statewide would get the two alloted for the state’s U.S. senators, but the candidate who won each congressional district would get the delegate from that district.
    • Allowing a candidate to run for statewide or congressional office and president or vice president on the same ballot.
    • Banning state funding for any abortion unless it is to protect the life of the mother. State money could not be used for any other medical purposes at Planned Parenthood or any other organization that provides elective abortions.
    • Allowing sexual assault protection orders to be permanent, and make it easier for a person seeking the order to have a temporary order renewed, putting the burden on the person covered by the order to prove he or she is unlikely to contact that seeker of the order.
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