Fans of the Potosi Chieftains and Belmont Braves may not have to get used to new high school athletic team nicknames.
Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Thursday a bill to change the process by which high schools with American Indian nicknames would be required to change them.
Assembly Bill 297 largely reverses a law passed in 2010 that requires the Department of Public Instruction to hold a hearing about a school mascot if one school district resident objects to the mascot. The 2010 law required a school district to prove that a mascot was not discriminatory.
The new law requires that someone who wants to change a mascot get petition signatures equal to 10 percent of school district enrollment. The school board then would be required to hold a hearing, but the petitioner is required to prove that the mascot is discriminatory.
“I am very concerned about the principle of free speech enshrined in our U.S. Constitution,” said Walker in a statement after the signing. “If the state bans speech that is offensive to some, where does it stop? A person or persons’ right to speak does not end just because what they say or how they say it is offensive. Instead of trying to legislate free speech, a better alternative is to educate people about how certain phrases and symbols that are used as nicknames and mascots are offensive to many of our fellow citizens. I am willing to assist in that process.”
The bill also allows school districts to avoid discrimination complaints if they had an agreement with a tribe with Wisconsin roots allowing the use of a nickname. The bill also voids rulings against school districts since 2010 to require them to change their nicknames.
The bill passed 52–41 in the Assembly and 17–16 in the Senate. One of the opponents was Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center), who said he objected to the 10-percent requirement.
Besides Potosi and Belmont, Schultz’s 17th Senate District includes the school districts of Riverdale (whose athletic teams are also the Chieftains), Lancaster (Flying Arrows), River Valley (Blackhawks), Black Hawk (Warriors) and Wisconsin Dells (Chiefs).