Bill to replace DEI offices overwhelmingly passes Utah House

Jan 19, 2024, 7:55 PM | Updated: Jan 20, 2024, 10:29 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The bill to replace diversity, equity and inclusion offices in Utah’s public schools is flying through the Utah Legislature. It passed the House Friday morning and is expected be heard in a Senate committee by early next week.

The bill prohibits any programs, office or training promoting differential treatment based on race, color, sexual orientation or any other identity characteristic.

It applies to higher education, public schools, the state board of education and government employers, such as cities or county health departments.

During the hearing, several Democrats spoke against its provisions and even tried to change some of them. In the end, however, the vote was overwhelming with the majority 58-14, along party lines.

The bill did get some slight tweaks to make sure federal grants that require DEI programs can still be approved by a city or county council. But it still can’t use the name diversity, equity and inclusion.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, maintains it won’t get rid of cultural centers or scholarships and students currently receiving services can continue.

Democrats took issue with how it would impact county health programs for people of color.

Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she became a lawmaker because she was in the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs in college.

“I’m afraid that we’re erasing people, we’re erasing identities, we’re erasing experiences,” she said. “And I know people’s intent. And isn’t that I’m not saying anyone in this room is doing that on purpose. But I want to remind all my colleagues there’s unintentional consequences when we just try to sweep things and say we’re all the same because we’re not.”

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, took issue with health programs that could be impacted.

“Black and African American women face higher rates of infant mortality than the general population by a rate of 250%. Getting rid of programming like this eliminates what we’re actively doing to try to do to lessen those disparities,” she said.

Hall argued this bill helps all students by setting success centers, where all at-risk students can get help.

“It doesn’t close cultural centers. 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 services,” said Hall.

“We have a statutory commitment to diversity and especially equality of opportunity. So I think this opens the door to all Utahans to not be judged based on a group or an identity, but to look at the individual,” she added.

Late Friday, University of Utah President Taylor Randall was seen going into the Senate chambers. It’s not known the University’s position on the bill or what changes, if any, could be proposed.

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Bill to replace DEI offices overwhelmingly passes Utah House