Bill aimed at reducing hair discrimination in schools is headed to governor

The House on Tuesday amended the bill, deleting the portion relating to the workplace.

Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, speaks on the floor of the Alaska Senate on Monday, May 2, 2022 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Senate on Wednesday agreed to accept the changes the House made to a bill that aimed to reduce hair discrimination — including the amendment to strip the protection for employees in the workplace. The bill still retains protection in public schools.

“I’ll be voting yes today. Not because I support some of the changes that happened in the other body. But we are running out of time this session and I support where the bill is as it stands, no matter how incremental. This bill as drafted still protects our children of color,” bill sponsor Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, said on the floor Wednesday.

He added: “Just because you have not personally experienced discrimination does not mean discrimination does not exist. I appreciate the body’s support for this piece of legislation. Racism in the workplace is not going away and I expect future work on this issue. The good news, Mr. President, is that people that oppose this piece of legislation are not long for this earth, and so I support the body to vote yes.”

In the bill’s original intent, school boards and employers wouldn’t be allowed to adopt a dress code that: prohibits an individual from wearing a hairstyle that is associated with race; prohibits an individual from wearing a natural hairstyle, regardless of the student’s hair texture or type; or requires a student to permanently or semipermanently alter the student’s natural hair. Natural hairstyle includes, but is not restricted to, braids, locs, twists, tight coils, afros, cornrows, and bantu knots.

The House on Tuesday amended the bill, deleting the portion relating to the workplace, which Democratic Anchorage Sen. Tom Begich referred to as “weakening the bill.” The bill would still reduce hair discrimination in public schools.

The version of the bill that the Senate concurred with also says school boards cannot adopt a dress code that prohibits a student from wearing traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at a graduation ceremony. The House made that amendment on Tuesday.

The bill is headed to the Governor. Once it’s transmitted, he’ll have to sign, veto, or allow it to become law without his signature.

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