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Utah joins list of states to pass a bill banning diversity programs in government and on campus

By AP | Jan 27, 2024

FILE - Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City, Oct. 19, 2023. On Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, Utah's legislature became the latest in the U.S. to pass a bill prohibiting diversity training, hiring and inclusion programs at universities and in state government. The bill now heads to Cox, who has said he is likely to sign such a bill into law. (Laura Seitz/The Deseret News via AP, Pool, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s legislature became the latest in the U.S. to pass a bill Friday prohibiting diversity training, hiring and inclusion programs at universities and in state government.

The bill that cleared the state House and Senate by wide margins now heads to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican who has said he is likely to sign such a bill into law.

Headed into the final year of his first term as governor, Cox has shifted right on “diversity, equity and inclusion.” After vetoing a ban on transgender students playing in girls sports in 2022, Cox signed a bill in 2023 regulating discussion of race and religion in public schools to ban, for example, the teaching that anybody can be racist merely because of their race.

“I can assure you, after this legislative session, it will not be happening in the state of Utah, these diversity statements that you have to sign to get hired,” Cox said in a Dec. 20 news conference.

Such initiatives are “awful, bordering on evil,” he added.

Under the Utah bill, universities and government would not be allowed to have offices dedicated to promoting diversity. They also could not require employees to submit statements of commitment to DEI.

“It ensures academic freedom on university campuses where all voices will be heard,” the bill’s Senate sponsor, Republican Keith Grover, said shortly before Thursday’s final 23-6 Senate vote in favor of the bill.

The chamber’s six Democrats voted against it. Among them was Sen. Luz Escamilla, who cited statistics showing much lower college enrollment rates for Native American, Hispanic and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students compared to white students.

“Our numbers don’t match our actual demographics,” Escamilla said. “If Utah’s enrollment is not even close to where we need to be, we’re failing and this is not the solution.”

Last year, Republican-led Florida and Texas were first to enact broad-based laws banning diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher education. Since then, other states have followed with similar measures.

The board that oversees Iowa’s public universities in November directed schools to eliminate staff positions focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. In December, the board overseeing Wisconsin’s university system agreed to shift dozens of DEI positions to instead focus on “student success” and freeze hiring for DEI staff in exchange for lawmakers releasing state funding for pay raises and campus construction projects.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican. issued an executive order in December restricting state funds from being spent for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in state agencies or higher education institutions. He also barred entities from requiring or considering DEI statements in the hiring process.

Already this year, Republican lawmakers have proposed about three dozen bills in at least 17 states that would restrict or require public disclosure of DEI initiatives, according to an Associated Press analysis using the bill-tracking software Plural.

Like last year, this year’s bills have a heavy focus on higher education. But Republicans also are sponsoring bills seeking to limit DEI in K-12 schools, state government, state contracting and pension investments. Some bills also would bar financial institutions from discriminating against those who refuse to participate in DEI programs.

Meanwhile, Democrats have filed at least 20 bills in nine states that would require or promote DEI initiatives. The bills cover a broad spectrum, including measures to reverse Florida’s recent ban on DEI in higher education and measures to require DEI considerations in K-12 school curriculum, in the hiring of ferry personnel in Washington and in a newly proposed offshore wind energy institute in New Jersey.


Associated Press writer David Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.