The diversity, equity and inclusion bills the legislature heard — and what passed
During its final week, the legislative session heard several bills related to topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion with varying levels of success.
HB 451 was sponsored by Rep. Katy Hall (R-Davis, Weber). It would have stopped state entities from requesting statements about topics like diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism, implicit bias and critical race theory, or using those submissions to determine things like employment, admission or benefits.
The exception to this would have been if the job title includes one of those phrases and the submission would relate to a bona fide occupational qualification. If federal law required one of the prohibited submissions, the institution would have to only accept and consider it to the extent required.
The sponsor noted this would not prohibit state entities from requiring compliance with policies related to state or federal laws such as discrimination and harassment laws.
The bill failed in committee with one yes and four nos.
HB 427, sponsored by Rep. Tim Jimenez (R-Tooele), prohibits school materials and instructions that are inconsistent with certain principles. These range from classics like “all individuals are equal before the law” to the more specific “meritocracy or character traits, including hard work ethic, are not racist but fundamental to the right to pursue happiness and to be rewarded for industry.”
It also restricts materials that incentivize or force students to change a sincerely held belief they learned at home; this was adjusted from “confront a sincerely held belief” during committee.
After concerns that the bill would restrict learning about certain issues at all, an amendment was added to explicitly allow age-appropriate discussion of topics like racism and sexism in the classroom.
The bill was passed and will take effect on July 31.
Finally, Sen. John Johnson (R-Morgan, Summit, Weber) sponsored SB 283. Originally, the bill was called “Prohibiting diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education,” and as the title implies, it would have fully defunded offices for diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education institutions. That money could have been reallocated towards things like merit scholarships for lower- or middle-income students and reducing tuition for in-state students.
Higher education institutions would have been be required to file a report with the commissioner showing they were compliant before they could spend any funding in the 2024 fiscal year. Students, faculty and alumni would also be able to bring civil action against the institution for violations.
Sen. Johnson did not present this bill, saying it was too strong of a start, and instead brought a first substitute called “Study of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education,” which would have the education interim committee do a study about the scope, funding and impact of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
There was extensive public comment, with more people wanting to speak than the committee had time for, and opinions ranged from severe opposition all the way to strong agreement.
Based on a suggestion from the University of Utah President Taylor Randall, the committee voted to send the issue to interim, which in this case has a similar effect to the bill being passed.
These bills and their discussions of diversity come on the heels of several anti-trans bills earlier this legislative session.