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Third try for California mascot bill

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California Assemblyman Jackie Goldberg, D-L.A., is
hoping that the third time really is a charm. Rebuffed during two previous
efforts to ban the use of American Indian-themed mascots, Goldberg is
trying again.

The bill would ban the use of the term "Redskins" in the state's public
schools, making California the first state to make such a ban legally
binding.

The bill, known as Assembly Bill 13, was passed out of the Assembly
Education Committee during the first week of April and, a week later, out
of Appropriations. Both times it was largely a party-line vote, with
Democrats voting in favor of the bill and Republicans opposing it. The only
exception was Assemblyman Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, on the Education
Committee.

Originally introduced in 2002, the first version of Goldberg's bill sought
to ban all use of American Indian or other racial stereotypes from
California public schools, which would have made it the first state in the
nation to do so.

After failing to get the legislative votes during the 2002 - '03
legislative session, the original scope of the bill was significantly
narrowed early last year as a compromise to garner more support for the
bill. The bill's final version that passed winnowed that down to just
banning the name "Redskins," seen by many anti-mascots at the most
offensive of mascot names in current use.

The deal was made on the day the final version made the floor vote, when
Goldberg gathered a group that had lobbied for the bill and told them the
original bill lacked adequate support.

The watered-down version managed to pass the Democratically-controlled
California Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last
fall, who asserted that it was a local, not a state, issue - the same
reason generally cited by the bill's opponents.

In all, only five high schools statewide currently using the "Redskins"
mascot would be affected by the bill: Tulare, Chowchilla Union, Colusa,
Calaveras and Gustine high schools.

Tulare Principal Howard Berger was quoted in a Fresno Bee article as saying
the issue should be decided locally and inferred that the bill was trite.

Colusa Unified School District Superintendent Larry Yeghoian contended that
the "local control" argument is actually making it more difficult for his
school district.

"The problem is when the issue is put on us locally, it tends to make it
more emotional than if the [state] would just pass the legislation, which
would then [force the change]," said Yeghoian.

Yeghoian said his district convened several meetings and committees over
the issue and that there was support at the top for the change. However, at
one such meeting, Yeghoian reported that out of the more than 100 people in
attendance, "only two or three" spoke in favor of changing the mascot; the
overwhelming majority favored keeping it.

"That kind of local support for the mascot made change very difficult."

Yeghoian said that he understands both sides, noting that the local Colusa
Tribe has been a "big supporter" of the school and even received an award
last year for its contributions to the community. He added that he didn't
believe the mascot's proponents were in any way harmful in intent, but
honoring a mascot that for decades had been part of the school.

Curtis Notsinneh, Goldberg's legislative aide and point person on the bill,
took exception to the local control argument.

"If local control was to govern civil rights issues, we would still have
Jim Crow laws in the South," said Notsinneh.

Notsinneh, who is Jicarilla Apache, said Goldberg has remained committed to
the issue and sees it in no uncertain terms as a civil rights issue. He
also reported that she planned to talk to the Schwarzenegger administration
to address potential concerns.

The debate over American Indian mascots goes back to at least the late
1960s, and the ongoing struggles have produced some notable victories for
anti-mascot proponents. The initial battles resulted in many schools
changing team names to something less incendiary; most notably Stanford
University, which went from "Indians" to "Cardinal" in 1981.

Another success for anti-mascot proponents came in the late 1990s when Los
Angeles banned the use of American Indian mascots from its public schools.