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Kyle Thiessen, the state of Washington's code reviser, looks at a shelf of pending legislation in his office in Olympia. The bill would change more than 3,500 laws currently on the books to make them gender neutral. (AP Photo/Ted Warren)

State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles defends gender neutrality law

State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles was shocked at the number of calls and emails she got over the weekend, complaining about a lesser-known bill she sponsored to make all Washington laws gender neutral. They said they heard the news on The Dori Monson Show.

Senator Kohl-Welles came on the show to advocate for the bill that prompted such a huge outcry.

The 474 page bill was written to update more than 3,500 Washington state statutes that uses gendered phrases "penmanship," "longshoreman," or "fisherman." The theory is to update the language to be more inclusive to women who have joined professions that were historically male dominated.

Since 1983, all state laws have been written with gender neutral language, but older laws and some local laws aren't written the same way.

The move toward gender neutrality is common, with about half of all states adopting gender neutral laws. Florida and Minnesota are the only two states that have completely changed their laws to reflect the changes, which is what is what's proposed in SB 5077.

In a time when state lawmakers are struggling to fund public education, Dori thinks this bill should not be a priority. He says it's a waste of time, since it's such a symbolic gesture.

"We have a member of the staff down there," said Dori, "who says he's been working on this project along with two attorneys since 2008. Of all the things we should be prioritizing, how in the world does this rise to the top?"

But Senator Kohl-Welles explains that it's not getting as high a priority as Dori thinks, since none of the people involved are working on the bill full time.

"The code adviser brings me a statute law and committee bill request sign-on sheet, I sign on, and then I go speak at the hearing," said Kohl-Welles. "And if the bill comes to the Senate floor I'll speak on it about two, three, four minutes. It's not something I'm spending time on."

She says that the process is also fairly simple, since they use a computer to search for the terms they are going to replace, rather than reading through thousands of pages word by word.

Senator Kohl-Welles actually agreed with Dori when he said that some of it seems frivolous. They agree that calling a student a "first-year" rather than a freshman won't make much of a difference. But Kohl-Welles still thinks the bill is worthwhile. She argues that men would want to change the wording it were the other way around, and men were lumped into a group of "firewomen."

Still, Dori thinks that even the symbolic value of the bill isn't worth the time legislators and code revisers are spending on it.

"We're changing language just for the sake of political correctness. And again, I ask, to what end?" Dori said. "What's the harm?"

But Kohl-Welles countered Dori in the same vein, asking what harm it does to update legal codes, if it's not taking up too much time and resources.

"Why is it that people get so rattled on this?" asked Kohl-Welles.

Jillian Raftery, Social Media Captain
Jillian Raftery is a social media captain for the Dori Monson Show. She loves the neighborly vibe of the Pacific Northwest and spends as much time as possible outdoors.
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