DENVER - A bill aimed at creating a committee to review whether or not Colorado public schools should have Native American mascots was passed by the House Education Committee Monday night.
House Bill 1165's sponsor is Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton).
"The more important aspect of this bill for me is to empower the American Indian community to make a decision themselves, as to what is or is not derogatory," Salazar said.
The bill calls for the creation of an 11-member committee—made up of two, non-voting education department members and nine voting Native American members-- which would review whether or not school mascots featuring Native Americans are offensive.
If the committee finds they are, the school would have two years to change their mascot, or its school district would face a $25,000 fine per month.
Some Native Americans who spoke before the committee said, much like the controversy over the Washington Redskins name, they believe the time had come for Native American mascots to stop.
"This is an idea that is coming to its twilight-- all across the country it's changing," Ryan Red Corn said.
However, John Sampson, vice president of Strasburg School District 31J, said names like the Strasburg High School's Indians are not meant to be offensive and the state should not be stepping in.
"This bill acts to diminish local school board control over school issues, smacks of governmental control overreach and is a waste of tax payer funds," Sampson said.
He also said it would cost his school district about $75,000 to change the Indian name where it appears, like on athletic uniforms, gymnasium floors and score boards. The proposed bill attempts to address that and calls for $200,000 to be set aside from the general fund for those expenses.
Five years ago, a similar bill was introduced in the Colorado legislature, but later withdrawn by its sponsor.
HB 1165 will now be heard by the House Appropriations Committee.
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