UTAH LEGISLATURE

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

Protestors gather outside the House chambers during a legislative special session at the Utah State...

Bridger Beal-Cvetko, KSL.com

Utah lawmakers vote to block federal protections for LGBTQ+ students under Title IX

Utah lawmakers convened in a special session on Juneteenth to declare the state's intent not to follow a federal rule providing anti-discrimination protections to transgender youth.

23 days ago

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden. and Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden in the School Safety Security Task Force m...

Brianna Chavez

School Safety Security Task Force discuss new requirements for schools as part of new bill

The School Safety Security Task Force met on Monday for the first time this year to discuss new school safety requirements implemented in HB84.

25 days ago

Image released as part of a drafted plan to reimagine downtown into an "experience zone." (Smith En...

Lindsay Aerts

SEG downtown plans include new hotel, housing, jumbotron and ‘experience’ plaza

Smith Entertainment Group executive Mike Maughan sat down for an interview with KSL's Lindsay Aerts on Monday to discuss the group's plans for downtown's revitalization.

1 month ago

Four Utah Republicans competing to replace retiring Sen. Mitt Romney in the U.S. Senate squared off...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox

KSL Truth Test: Fact-checking claims from Utah GOP candidates fighting to replace Romney

The KSL Investigators put claims from Republican candidates for U.S. Senate through the KSL Truth Test. Here are the facts, context and details you’ll need to get a better picture of the issues.

1 month ago

The outside of the Black Cultural Center at Weber State University in Ogden on Tuesday. It and seve...

Tim Vandenack, KSL.com

Weber State to axe Black, Latino, other cultural centers to comply with new diversity law

Weber State University will eliminate cultural centers for Black, Latino and other students to comply with the new Utah law targeting diversity initiatives.

1 month ago

Prosecutors filed felony charges in a Salt Lake City rape case from 2019, but later reduced them to...

Daniella Rivera

Could making this change help Utah improve sexual assault prosecutions?

Only a fraction of sexual assaults reported to police in Utah result in criminal charges for the perpetrator, but a legislative proposal could potentially change that.

3 months ago

Sponsored Articles

young male technician is repairing a printer at office...

Les Olson

Unraveling the dilemma between leasing and buying office technology

Carefully weigh these pros and cons to make an informed decision that best suits your business growth and day-to-day operation. 

A kitchen in a modern farmhouse....

Lighting Design

A room-by-room lighting guide for your home

Bookmark this room-by-room lighting guide whenever you decide to upgrade your lighting or style a new home.

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

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