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09/10/2015 03:20 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2015

California Legislature Approves Ban On 'Redskins' Mascots

Four high schools would have to choose a new mascot under legislation passed Thursday.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A group protests the name of the Washington Redskins across from an NFL game at San Francisco's Levi's Stadium in 2014.

The California State Assembly voted Thursday to ban the state's schools from using "Redskins" nicknames and mascots, a move that could soon make it the first state to specifically prohibit schools from using the name that continues to spark controversy across the nation.

The California Racial Mascots Act, which Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D) introduced in December, would force four of the state's high schools that still use the name to change it by the start of 2017.

The state Senate approved the bill in a 25-10 vote Tuesday evening, sending it back to the Assembly for final approval Thursday. The Assembly, which had approved a slightly different version of the bill in May, voted 59-9 to pass it. The legislation will now go to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

"As the state with the largest Native American population in the country, we should not continue to allow a racial slur to be used by our public schools," Alejo said in a press release. "It's time for California to do the right thing and phase out the use of this, dictionary defined, racial slur."

Though California would be the first to specifically ban "Redskins" should Brown sign the bill, other states have sought similar policies in the past. Minnesota's board of education recommended that its schools stop using Native American mascots in 1988, and the New York state board of education later followed, as Native American activists and organizations argued that the nicknames perpetuated stereotypes that are harmful to their communities and students. (The American Psychological Association and American Sociological Association also recommended dropping such names for the same reason.)

The national debate surrounding the Washington NFL team's use of the name has renewed that movement in recent years. Oregon is now in the process of implementing a law passed in 2012 that sought to phase out most Native American mascots at the state's schools, and Brown's signature would add the four California high schools to a list of at least eight others -- including schools in New York, Texas and Oklahoma -- that have stopped using “Redskins” in the last three years.

Amid the controversy, Washington's NFL team has continued its fight to save its name. The Change The Mascot campaign, a joint effort of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and the National Congress of American Indians that has targeted Washington’s football team for using the term, said California’s action should put further pressure on the franchise and the NFL to act.

"This milestone is a major victory for everyone continuing the fight to bring an end to the use of this demeaning epithet in California and all across the country,” Change The Mascot’s leaders said. “Faced with this latest development, the National Football League must now try to reconcile how it can keep defending the use of a racial slur that the most populous state in the country, which is also home to three of the league’s teams, deems too offensive for its own public school system.” 

The NFL also received renewed pressure from Congress on Thursday, when Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced legislation that would strip the league's exemption from federal antitrust laws as long as it allows Washington to continue using "Redskins."

This post has been updated with the final vote count and a statement from Assemblyman Luis Alejo.

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