Washington State Scrubs Words Like ‘Penmanship’ & ‘Policeman’ From Old Laws to Be More Gender-Neutral

Then-gubernatorial candidate Democrat Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference at his campaign headquarters Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Seattle. (Photo: AP)

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed a bill into law Monday that concludes a six-year effort to make state legislation more gender-neutral.

A bill passed in 1983 already mandates that new laws not use apparently offensive words like “fireman” (now “firefighter”) or “policeman” (now “police officer”), but the new law mandates that workers revise ​old​ laws dating back to 1854, according to the Seattle Times.

“There’s no good reason for keeping our legal terms anachronistic and with words that do not respect our current contemporary times,” Kohl-Welles, the 475-page bill’s sponsor, told to Reuters.

Some of the other words that have been replaced include “penmanship” (changed to “handwriting”), “freshman” (changed to “first-year student”), and “watchmen” (changed to “security guards”).

Reuters continues:

Several words, however, aren’t easy to replace, said Kyle Thiessen, the state’s code reviser, who heads up the 40-staff Washington Code Reviser’s Office agency.

The state likely won’t change the words “airmen” and “seaman,” for example, because of objections by the state’s Washington Military Department, he said.

Civil engineering terms such as “man hole” and “man lock,” also will not be changed because no common-sense substitutes could easily be found, Thiessen said.

Nearly 3,500 Washington state code sections, out of a total of about 40,000 have been tediously scrubbed of gender bias, although most involve adding pronouns “she” and “her” to augment the existing “he” and “his,” Thiessen said.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled state House 70-22 on April 9 and unanimously cleared the state Senate on February 8 before being signed by Democratic Governor Jay Inslee.  [Emphasis added]

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