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Utah’s anti-DEI bill heads to the governor

A view of the dome of the Utah State Capitol on the first day of the 2024 Utah legislative session in Salt Lake City, Jan.16, 2024.
Briana Scroggins
Special to KUER
A view of the dome of the Utah State Capitol on the first day of the 2024 Utah legislative session in Salt Lake City, Jan.16, 2024.

Update Jan. 30 — Gov. Spencer Cox has signed HB261. “We’ve been concerned about some DEI programs and policies, particularly with hiring practices, and this bill offers a balanced solution,” the governor said in a statement. “I’m grateful to the Legislature for not following the lead of other states that simply eliminated DEI funding with no alternative path for students who may be struggling. Instead, this funding will be repurposed to help all Utah students succeed regardless of their background.”

After clearing both the Utah House and Senate, a bill that eliminates diversity, equity and inclusion programs in K-12 schools, public universities and government agencies now awaits a signature from Gov. Spencer Cox.

The Equal Opportunity Initiatives passed its final hurdle in the House on a party-line 60-14 vote with one member absent. HB0261 also sailed through the Senate on Jan. 25 on another party-line vote of 23-6.

DEI hiring practices and training at publicly-funded institutions are specifically targeted as well as diversity offices at universities, which would be replaced with “student success offices.”

“The intent of this bill is that we treat everyone as an individual, taking into account all their circumstances, capabilities, opportunities and experiences with the goal of providing equal opportunities for everyone,” said bill sponsor Republican Rep. Katy Hall. “It will also provide an environment where civil discourse and a marketplace of ideas can flourish again on our university campuses.”

DEI initiatives have come under fire from many conservatives who believe they effectively do the opposite of their intended purposes by unfairly discriminating and fostering ideological conformity.

Under the bill, job applicants at affected organizations will no longer be required to submit a statement or answer questions about their views or work experience with DEI. Doing so would put the institution’s state funding at risk.

Democrats have been unified in their opposition and have repeatedly warned their Republican colleagues of repercussions the bill could have on underrepresented communities.

I know people's hearts are not to create division, or they think that by taking away diversity, equity and inclusion, that's gonna make this a level playing field,” said House Minority Leader Angela Romero. “I want you to realize that our past, our present and our future are all tied together. And by taking out diversity, equity and inclusion, it just doesn't send the right message to many of us.”

Back in December, before the session even started, Gov. Cox voiced his strong support for eliminating DEI hiring practices. He has until March 21 to sign or veto the bill. If Cox takes no action, it automatically becomes law.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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