No more ‘firemen’ in Washington state: Governor signs gender-neutral legislation

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Ending a six-year move toward gender neutrality in Washington state law, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the effort’s final piece of legislation Monday, according to news reports.

By replacing terms like “fireman” with “firefighter,” “ombudsman” with “ombud,” “journeyman” with “journey level,” “freshman” to “first-year,” and “policeman” to “police” Washington is eliminating words that could be considered to have a gender bias.

“Words matter,” said Liz Watson, a senior adviser to the National Women’s Law Center, according to Reuters. “This is important in changing hearts and minds.”

A 1983 law required all future legislation to be gender-neutral, and the total revamping of language, which began in 2007 required that all previous the state law, going back as far as 1854, conformed to gender neutrality, Fox News reported.

“This was a much larger effort than I had envisioned. Mankind means man and woman,” said Seattle’s Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill sponsor, according to Reuters.

Reuters reports the most recent bill to scrub gender bias — changing “penmanship” to “handwriting,” “fisherman” to “fisher,” and the like — passed the House 70-22 and unanimously passed the Senate prior to arriving on Inslee’s desk.

“There’s no good reason for keeping our legal terms anachronistic and with words that do not respect our current contemporary times,” Kohl-Welles added to Reuters.

According to The Associated Press, about half of all states have adopted various levels of gender-neutral language, and Florida and Minnesota have already completed Washington state-style revisions.

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