Utah House OKs final version of diversity, equity, inclusion bill; now it goes to Gov. Cox

Jan 26, 2024, 2:04 PM | Updated: 4:17 pm

Rep. Katy Hall...

Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, presents HB261 as Senate members of the Education Standing Committee hear comments at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday. The Utah House on Friday approved changes to the measure implemented by the Senate and it will now go to Gov. Spencer Cox for his consideration. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers have reached accord on the proposed overhaul of diversity, equity and inclusion programming at the state’s public universities, after about a week and a half of debate.

Following Friday’s House vote to approve changes to HB261 implemented by the Utah Senate, the measure goes for the consideration of Gov. Spencer Cox, who’s indicated support for the change.

Utah Rep. Katy Hall, the chief sponsor of HB261, acknowledged the strong sentiments the measure has inspired — pro and con — and issued a call, of sorts, for reconciliation. Proponents say the measure would “level the playing field” for all university students in terms of access to assistance and support, while foes worry students of color and others who have traditionally benefited from diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives could take a hit.

“There is more work to be done. And it’s up to all of us, and all of the people in our communities as we move forward, to treat each other with kindness and reach out to people in our communities and lift them up,” said Hall, R-South Ogden. “Lift up those who need it, no matter what their circumstances.”

HB261, coming amid national debate over diversity, equity and inclusion programming, would expand such initiatives to all students, not just Black students and others from marginalized groups, the traditional focuses. It would also prohibit universities and other public entities from requiring “diversity statements” of job applicants and aim to foster “academic freedom” on college campuses.

The proposal stems in part from concerns, chiefly from conservatives, that diversity, equity and inclusion programming, by focusing on marginalized students, leaves out others who could benefit from such initiatives. Diversity, equity and inclusion backers, meantime, see dismantling and overhauling of the programming as a step back in the civil rights movement.

Rep. Angela Romero, R-Salt Lake City, has been one of the most vocal critics of HB261, and she reiterated her concerns ahead of Friday’s vote. The change, she argued, “doesn’t send the right message” to some.

“Again, I know many of you are doing this because you want to create a level playing field. But I’m telling you, the message is not the same to many of us out there in the community,” said Romero, who’s Hispanic.

She noted that she benefited from a cultural center at the University of Utah when a student there — that it served as a safe space after unpleasant interactions. “I knew I could go in there and talk to someone about what had just happened and they would understand. And I knew I would have a support system of students that had the same experiences that I did,” she said.

HB261 received an initial hearing in the House Education Committee on Jan. 17, last week, and has quickly mustered support from the Republican majority in the House and Senate. The Democratic minority in each body has solidly opposed the measure, while it has garnered intense support from some in the public and just as strong opposition from others.

Rep. Neil Walter, R-St. George, said the measure — in the works for the last year, according to Hall — doesn’t pull any funding. Rather, it’s about expanding assistance to all students in need.

“We’re focusing on making sure we can provide support to all of our students in our great state of Utah,” he said. “We are very much concerned about making sure that we help people have a successful experience in navigating their higher education experience. … We’re not trying to do anything to take resources away from minorities or other underserved communities.”

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, suspects changes will be needed, presuming Cox signs it into law, saying it would likely be addressed in future session.

Among the changes to the measure from the Utah Senate, approved Friday by the House, was the addition of language assuring continuation of agreements on scholarships and other matters between the University of Utah and the Ute Indian Tribe, Hall said. Moreover, language was added to preserve the ability of healthcare officials to gather information on diseases and other ailments that may disproportionately impact certain racial or ethnic groups, according to Sen. Keith Grover, R-Provo, the Senate sponsor of HB261.

In response to a query, Hall said groups at elementary schools like Latinos in Action, meant to empower Latino students, could continue, though they’d have to be open to all students. Romero says many questions about HB261 remain. The measure would apply to K-12 schools and other publicly funded entities.

“We haven’t even talked about how this has an impact with people who work in public schools when there’s an issue,” she said. “We don’t even know how this has an impact (on) local government. And I live and work for a city (where) people of color are the majority.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Utah Legislature

A proposed bill, HB351, would allow teen drivers to have a single friend in the car, which Utah's s...

Daniel Woodruff

New teen drivers still can’t have friends in car after Utah bill fails

Utah Senate Democrats scored a rare legislative victory this week when they defeated a bill loosening the law for new young drivers.

10 minutes ago

Ryan Smith posted this image to X on Tuesday, showing a new NBA and NHL arena anchoring what he cal...

Josh Ellis and Linsday

Lawmakers debate NHL arena funding as Church supports project’s potential to ‘revitalize downtown’

The Utah House of Representatives is continuing to discuss a bill to fund a National Hockey League stadium and “sports and entertainment” district in downtown Salt Lake City as the clock ticks down on the 2024 general legislative session.

3 hours ago


Daniel Woodruff

Utah Legislature approves allowing more children at unlicensed day care facilities

A bill in the Utah Legislature that aims to allow unlicensed providers to care for up to eight children instead of six passed the house and senate. It now awaits Gov. Cox's signature.

18 hours ago

A conceptional rendering of a proposed Major League Baseball stadium, located within the Power Dist...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

Utah Legislature approves Fairpark District, framework for MLB ballpark funding

Utah lawmakers have decided that an amended version of a bill setting up a Fairpark area investment district and setting up the framework for state funding of a possible Major League Baseball stadium is a home run.

1 day ago

New homes during construction. (Ray Boone, KSL News)...

Daniel Woodruff

Battle brewing between Utah builders, cities over home inspections

SB185, which passed the Senate this week and awaits a vote in the House of Representatives, could allow builders to pick their own inspectors.

2 days ago

The Larry H. Miller Company and Miller family unveiled renderings for the Power District, a nearly ...

Lindsay Aerts

Plan to finance MLB stadium gets House approval after major tax change

The plan to finance a Major League Baseball stadium on Salt Lake's west side got a big change as it hit the House floor Tuesday.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Utah House OKs final version of diversity, equity, inclusion bill; now it goes to Gov. Cox