"Firemen" to become "firefighters" under bill
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Last fall, when Seattle City Councilwomen Sally Clark and Jan Drago were working through the mayor's proposed budget, they stumbled across several references to "firemen" and "policemen."
"I thought, 'That seems silly,' " Clark said.
Turns out, it was also contrary to state law, which for nearly a quarter of a century has required that all statutes be written in gender-neutral terms.
Clark and Drago did some checking and found out that several chapters of a state law dealing with local-government pensions still include numerous references to firemen and policemen.
They asked state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles to help get rid of the gender-specific terms.
So Kohl-Welles, a Seattle Democrat, sponsored a 41-page bill that strikes all of the references to the terms fireman and policeman and replaces them with "firefighter" and "police officer."
Wherever there is a reference to "he" or "him," the bill adds "or she" and "or her." And in several places the term "chairman" is changed to "chairperson."
The bill was approved Monday by the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which Kohl-Welles chairs.
She said that while her legislation could be described as a "little cleanup bill," it means a lot to some people.
Theresa Purtell, a Seattle firefighter who testified before the Senate committee, said that when she started her career nearly three decades ago, people went out of their way to emphasize the "man" in fireman, "as a way of telling me that I shouldn't be there."
"Every time you hear that word — fireman — it's kind of like the foil on the fillings in your mouth ... or the fingernails on the chalkboard," Purtell said.
It's unclear how many gender-specific terms are still buried in the Revised Code of Washington, the compilation of state laws. The code has eight volumes totaling more than 10,000 pages.
Kyle Thiessen, who heads the state Code Reviser's Office, said the practice for decades has been to simply fix any gender-specific references "as we come across them."
"They certainly don't come up nearly as often as they used to when I started here 18 years ago," Thiessen said.
But he said it's a safe bet that some are still on the books.
"Some sections of the code just haven't been amended in the last 40 years," he said.
Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
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