Towns with team names or mascots depicting images associated with Native Americans could lose funding under a provision in the 800-plus page budget implementer expected to be passed by the legislature during special sessions this week.
The section affects municipal grant funding under the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund. No town will receive a grant if it has an intramural or interscholastic sports team that makes reference to a state or federally recognized tribe in its mascot, nickname, logo, or team name.
Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat who is co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday it was unfair for towns to expect a portion of slot machine revenue raised by tribes if they insist on using names and imagery the tribes find offensive.
“The people it reflects on have said they don’t appreciate this, that they think this is wrong,” Osten said. “Why should the dollars that they raise be used to support something like this? Again, towns, communities can choose to keep [the names or mascots], they just don’t get the dollars associated with the Native American communities.”
Towns would not lose grant money until next June and have until June 2023 to signal their intent to change the name or symbol without financial penalty.
The change could have the biggest impact on Montville, where a local team is called the “Indians.” This year, Montville received $1.4 million in funding. West Hartford could also be affected. This year, the town received $28,000 in grants. West Hartford changed the mascots associated with two of its high schools in 2015 but it retained the team name “Chieftains” at Conard High School.
The provision could cost the town of Killingly around $94,000. Board of education officials there voted earlier this year to reinstate the team name “Redmen,” less than a year after it was changed to the “Red Hawks.”
Towns identified as having teams with Native American names or mascots include: Canton, Derby, Killingly, Litchfield, Meriden, Montville, North Haven, Torrington, West Hartford, Wilton, Windsor, and Woodbury.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he trusted local boards of education to make their own calls on team names and mascots.
“I haven’t seen any mascots that are unduly over the top or ridicule another culture so I think some folks are a little overly sensitive to the entire issue,” Kissel said.
The slot machine funding issue was one of many included in the 837-page bill released early Tuesday morning and expected to come for a vote in the Senate sometime Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said it was arrogant for Democrats to expect a vote on such a large piece of legislation so soon after it was released for public analysis.
“The fact that we had 837 pages of language, 24,800 lines of legislation passed out for the public and legislator review and 3 a.m. this morning. We’re going into session at 11 o’clock,” Hwang said. “Who can read or fully comprehend what the nuances of these various bills are? We can’t but we’re going to do our best. Unfortunately, this is not good policy, this is not good governance and it certainly is not transparent.”
Although the two-year budget passed last week found bipartisan support, Republicans signalled Tuesday they would be opposing the budget implementer, in part because they said they hadn’t yet had time to read what was in it.
“I vote ‘no’ and I’m mad,” Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said. “People in the state of Connecticut are getting mad because this majority is running this like a train.”
In addition to the budget implementer, the Senate was expected to take up and pass a separate bill legalizing recreational cannabis. The chamber passed the bill on a narrow 19 to 17 vote last week but the bill died on the House calendar at the end of the regular session. Lawmakers said Tuesday they expect the vote to be unchanged from last week.