By Rachel La Corte Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday signed off on the final installment of a six-year effort to make language in the state’s copious laws gender-neutral.
The state already has welcomed “firefighters,” “clergy” and “police officers” into its lexicon under previous bills, but under the most recent measure, terms like “ombuds” and “security guards” replace ombudsman and watchmen. Dairymen, freshmen and even penmanship also will soon be things of the past, replaced by “dairy farmers,” “first-year students” and “handwriting.”
“It brings us to modern times, to contemporary times,” Sen. Jeannie Kohl-Welles, the bill’s sponsor, said after the signing. “Why should we have in statute anything that could be viewed as biased or stereotypical or reflecting any discrimination?”
Kohl-Welles, a Democrat from Seattle, introduced her first bill in 2007 to replace references to firemen and policemen and directed the state code reviser’s office to do a full revision of the rest of the code. A 1983 Washington state law already required all new statutes to be written in gender-neutral terms, so state officials were tasked with going through the rest of state statutes dating back to 1854 to revise the rest.
As in past bills on the issue that have tackled sections of the state code, some revisions were as simple as adding “or her” after “his.” Others required a little more scrutiny. Phrases like “man’s past” change to “humankind’s past” and a “prudent man or woman” is simply a “prudent person.”
The measure passed the state House on a 70-22 vote earlier this month, with Democrats united in favor and Republicans split. It passed out of the state Senate by a unanimous vote in February.
About half of all U.S. states have moved toward such gender-neutral language at varying levels, from drafting bills to changing state constitutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida and Minnesota already have completely revised their laws as Washington state is doing.