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Utah is the latest state to ban DEI efforts on campus and in government

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is shown speaking at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City, Oct. 19, 2023.
Laura Seitz
/
AP
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is shown speaking at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City, Oct. 19, 2023.

Utah's governor signed a bill into law Tuesday that makes the state the latest to prohibit diversity training, hiring and inclusion programs at universities and in state government.

The measure signed by Spencer Cox, a Republican who previously said he supported the idea, had cleared the state House and Senate by wide, party-line majorities.

Headed into the final year of his first term, Cox has shifted to the 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, teaching that anybody can be racist merely because of their race.

He also signed a separate law Tuesday requiring people to use bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government-owned buildings that match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Cox previously called requiring employees to sign statements in support of workplace and campus diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, "awful, bordering on evil."

"We've been concerned about some DEI programs and policies, particularly with hiring practices, and this bill offers a balanced solution," Cox said in a statement Tuesday night.

The new law will bar universities and government from having offices dedicated to promoting diversity. They also can't require employees to submit statements of commitment to DEI.

"It ensures academic freedom on university campuses where all voices will be heard," Republican Keith Grover, the bill's sponsor in the state Senate, said shortly before the body made a final 23-6 vote in favor last Thursday.

The chamber's Democrats all voted no, citing statistics showing minority enrollment at colleges and universities trailing far behind that of white students.

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

The measures have a heavy focus on higher education, but Republicans are also sponsoring ones that would limit DEI in K-12 schools, state government, state contracting and pension investments. Some would bar financial institutions from discriminating against people who refuse to participate in DEI programs.

Meanwhile, Democrats in nine states have filed at least 20 bills to require or promote DEI initiatives. They include measures to reverse Florida's recent ban on DEI in higher education and measures to require considerations in the K-12 school curriculum. Others apply to ferry workers in Washington state and a proposed offshore wind energy institute in New Jersey.

Republican-led Florida and Texas were first to enact broad-based laws banning DEI efforts in higher education last year. Other states including Iowa and Oklahoma have implemented similar measures.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press