Opinion

Angel’s opening act had more symbolism than substance

With all due respect, we disagree somewhat with newly installed state Rep. Jan Angel’s assertion that one of her very first actions in Olympia was motivated by more than ordinary political correctness.

The Port Orchard Republican last week introduced her first two bills since being elected in November to represent Washington’s 26th District in the Legislature, and the more weighty of the two was a get-tough measure that would use Global Positioning System technology to help track sex offenders.

Her second bill, however, was an effort to edit the language in bills that refer to persons with mental handicaps as “intellectually disabled” rather than “mentally retarded.”

Angel’s point was that the latter term was too judgmental.

“The treatment of the mentally ill has changed,” she said. “Unfortunately, much of the language has not.”

Then again, is there any compelling reason why it should?

According to the dictionary, retardation refers to the “slowing down or slackening of progress,” which doesn’t sound like a terribly pejorative interpretation.

Regrettably, the term can be — and often is — abused to describe persons suffering from intellectual disabilities, which is obviously what Angel’s bill is trying to discourage. And that’s a perfectly reasonable sentiment.

It just seems more practical to worry about using different terminology in future legislation than to start sanitizing statutes that may have been on the books for generations just because they happen to contain language that could offend current sensibilities.

The good news is that the cost of Angel’s plan, should it be adopted, is negligible. And to be sure, her heart was in the right place when she suggested it.

The bad news is that the first actions a new lawmaker takes in the opening days of his or her freshman term say a lot about their priorities, especially in these challenging times. And in that sense, it just might have been more appropriate to come out of the box with something whose effects figured to be more substantive than symbolic.

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