Bill to replace diversity offices in schools and government entities passes first hurdle

Jan 17, 2024, 8:53 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2024, 6:36 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to replace diversity, equity offices at Utah’s colleges, K-12 schools, and governmental entities cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday. Diversity, equity and inclusion is sometimes called DEI.

It passed out of the House Education Committee along party lines 12-2. The hearing lasted more than two hours, required an overflow room and had more than three dozen public comments.  

The bill prohibits any program, training or policy that promotes differential treatment based on race, color, sexual orientation or any other identity characteristic.   

“It does not defund programs or scholarships. It does not exclude students who need extra services for their academic success, including those who are already receiving those services. They should notice no difference. It does not violate current state or federal laws that prohibit discrimination,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden. 

The Democrats were the only lawmakers to oppose the bill. Much of the discussion was focused on how this would impact higher education and K-12 schools. But Minority Leader Angela Romero asked Hall how the bill would impact city and county DEI programs.  

“When we’re looking at programming through a municipality such as Salt Lake City, could they still have an equity office under this bill that’s called equity?” she asked.  

Hall couldn’t answer that and looked to her co-presenter James Evans, a former GOP lawmaker and a Utah party chair. 

“You can still do the work as long as you do not violate the prohibited discriminatory practices,” he said.  

Over three dozen people stood to speak, many in favor say it helps all at-risk students get the help they need and promotes looking at the individual who needs help, regardless of characteristics like color.  

“I have been able to see that being able to be hired comes from you get more points if you come from that background, from minority status backgrounds,” one woman said.

But those against it said it’s vague, they allege it could get rid of things like black or brown student unions and had concerns about faculty not being able to train on DEI-related topics.  

“Jesus went after the one if we all remember the story,” said the leader of the Black Menaces, a student group at Brigham Young University. “Jesus went after the one sheep not the 99. By eliminating DEI we’re effectively going after the 99 and forgetting about the one.”  

BYU would not be impacted by this legislation since it applies to only publicly funded colleges and universities.  

Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, supported the bill. 

“Would this prohibit teachers from teaching about hard topics of history such as slavery, the Jim Crow era, reconstruction, redeemer governments?” Clancy asked Hall. “Would any of this be prohibitive of those important topics?” 

“Not at all,” Hall said.

In the end, the vote was along party lines. 

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Bill to replace diversity offices in schools and government entities passes first hurdle