SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — After days of debate, Utah lawmakers came to an agreement Friday over a bill that would overhaul diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in state institutions, from college campuses to government office buildings.
House Bill 261, titled “Equal Opportunity Initiatives,” passed on the final vote 60-14, along party lines. One lawmaker was absent. The bill is now headed to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk. Ahead of the legislative session, the governor expressed support for passing such a bill.
H.B. 261 would replace DEI programs in colleges and schools with Student Success Centers. Instead of focusing on helping historically marginalized groups, these centers would be open to all students regardless of their identity, backers of the bill say.
“The intent of this bill is that we treat everyone as an individual, taking into account all their circumstances, capabilities, opportunities and experiences with the goal of providing equal opportunities for everyone,” said Rep. Katy Hall, the bill’s chief sponsor, ahead of its final passage on Friday.
Prohibited under the bill are “ideological commitment statements” for prospective hires and trainings that “promote political ideologies,” Hall explained over the last several days.
Opponents of the bill say that it’s a misguided attempt to remove the politically-charged DEI label from Utah institutions. They argue that there’ll be unintended consequences and likely dissolve a source of support for some historically marginalized students.
Among the most vocal critics was Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City).
“I want you to realize that our past, our present and our future are all tied together, and by taking out diversity, equity and inclusion it just doesn’t send the right message to many of us,” Romero said on the House floor Friday.
Utah Democrats have asked the governor not to sign the bill.
Over the week, H.B. 261 has undergone a number of changes. One of them added language to the bill that would carve out a space for private scholarships and the agreement between the University of Utah and the Ute Tribe.