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With Votes Suddenly Scarce, Colorado's American Indian Mascot Bill Is Delayed

Colorado General Assembly

Democrats in the House unexpectedly delayed a vote on an American Indian mascot bill after they realized Republicans had enough votes to stop it.

House Bill 1165 [.pdf] would set up a state commission to review American Indian mascot names associated with high school and college athletic teams. Without approval, schools would have to switch their names or face fines.

“You can’t honor people based off of words, based off of racist intentions that required extermination,” said bill sponsor Representative Joe Salazar (D-Thornton).

If a mascot doesn’t get approved, schools would have two years to change their names or face a steep fine of $25,000 each month.

“That’s potentially two teachers at some of my rural schools,” said Representative Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth) of the fine.

Dore also said schools in his district aren’t using American Indian names to be hurtful, it’s about the pride they take in their school and the history of it.

If the bill reaches the Senate, Democrats said they would work on modifying the punitive fines. Meanwhile, the party thought it had enough votes to easily pass the measure Tuesday — up until Representative Ed Vigil (D-Alamosa) said he would be a no vote. He also objected to the fines, and said the measure would hurt economically depressed parts of the state and should be a local decision.

“I believe it’s probably a good thing that they should go,” said Vigil. "I just believe that those school boards are moving towards that, but I think it’s the cost involved and the timing."

It takes 33 votes for a bill to pass. Democrats hold a 34-31 majority. But with one lawmaker absent, and Vigil’s no vote, HB 1165 would have failed. Democrats quickly pulled the measure from the calendar and delayed a final vote. Even if it eventually passes the House, it’s expected to falter in the Republican controlled Senate.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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