Alabama Senate OKs bill targeting college diversity efforts

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers have advanced legislation aimed at prohibiting universities, schools and public entities from maintaining diversity and inclusion offices or funding initiatives that teach what Republicans labeled as “divisive concepts.”

The multi-pronged proposal is one of dozens of bills introduced by Republican lawmakers across the country that would restrict initiatives on diversity, equity and inclusion, also known as DEI.

Republican opponents say DEI programs are discriminatory and promote left-wing ideology. Democratic supporters say the programs are necessary for ensuring institutions meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations.

Alabama state senators approved the bill Thursday on a 26-7 vote that broke down along party lines. The approval came after six hours of debate and attempts — some successful, and some not — to amend the proposal. It now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.

Republican Sen. Will Barfoot, the sponsor of the bill, said the bill is aimed at “removing wedges.”

It gives a list of divisive concepts, including that “any individual should accept, acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to apologize on the basis of his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”

The proposed legislation said schools could not fund initiatives that teach those concepts or require students and employees to attend “any training, orientation, or course work that advocates for or requires assent to a divisive concept, require students as part of any required curriculum or mandatory professional training.”

“This bill is an attempt to pull the divisive languages out of schools, out of the classrooms to teach history accurately, fairly so that everybody can be recognized regardless of color of skin, sex (or) national origin,” Barfoot said.

Senate Democrats and others said the bill would hurt the state's effort to recruit businesses.

On the stand Thursday, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said the proposal will ultimately be a “litmus test” for the state’s higher education institutions, al.com reported.

He argued that those that want to pursue diversity work will find a way to do so within the confines of the law, while others will now have more reasons not to.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, a Democrat, said Republicans are pushing the bill as an “agenda piece" and would send the message that Alabama doesn't welcome diversity.

“I could see a doctor who is being recruited to UAB ... you don't want diversity and inclusion so therefore I don't want to come to your state,” Singleton said.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin issued lengthy statements on social media this week criticizing the bill.

“To the State of Alabama: Why would you make it illegal for institutions of higher learning to promote diversity and inclusion among its faculty and staff? Why would you block fair representation and opportunities for all people?" he said. "If supporting inclusion becomes illegal in this state, hell, you might as well stand in front of the school door like Governor Wallace. Mannnn it’s Black History Month. Y’all could have at least waited until March 1.”