by Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON — The first statewide public ban of the term ‘Redskins’ is two steps away from becoming California law.

The California Racial Mascots Act, introduced by Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) to the California State Assembly in Dec. 2014, would “prohibit public schools from using the term Redskins as a school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname,” beginning in Jan. 2017.

Four public high schools in California currently have the ‘Redskins’ name and mascot: Gustine High School (Merced County), Calaveras High School (Calaveras County), Chowchilla Union High School (Madera County), and Tulare Union High School (Tulare County).

Athletic uniforms bearing the team name, mascot, or nickname would still be permissible, provided they were purchased prior to Jan. 1, 2017. However, the schools would have to refrain from purchasing, for the purpose of distribution, any other materials — such as yearbooks, newspapers, programs, etc. — bearing the prohibited team name, mascot or nickname.

The bill had already passed through the assembly earlier this year, and was passed by the state’s Senate Education Committee in a legislation hearing on June 17, putting the bill to a final vote in the state senate.

Student activists, public health professionals and state and national tribal leaders — including Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter, who has been a recurring voice in Native mascot-related issues in recent years, especially those involving the Washington Redskins – appeared in support of the legislation.

If the bill passes through the senate, the California Racial Mascots Act heads to the desk of California Governor Jerry Brown, who will then have to decide whether to veto it, sign it into law, or allow it to become law without his signature.

This is the fourth instance of such a bill in the state.

Former Assembly Jackie Goldberg introduced three previous versions between 2002 and 2005, the first of which sought to prohibit a number of Native American terms (Redskins, Indians, Braves, Chiefs, Apaches and Comanches), but never made it past the assembly floor. Goldberg narrowed the later generations of the bill to only include the term “Redskins.”

Her latter two bills passed, but were both vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who indicated such decisions should be made at the local level.

“Existing statute already affords local school boards general control over all aspects of their interscholastic athletic policies, programs, and activities,” he said. “Decisions regarding athletic team names, nicknames or mascots should be retained at the local level.”

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