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Utah is latest state to ban DEI activities on campus and within government

Utah Governor Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly Press Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on October 19, 2023.

Laura Seitz/AP

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Laura Seitz/AP

Utah Governor Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly Press Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on October 19, 2023.

Laura Seitz/AP

Utah’s governor signed a bill Tuesday making the state the latest to ban universities and state government from conducting diversity training, recruiting and inclusion programs.

The measure signed by Republican Spencer Cox, who has previously expressed support for the idea, has broad party majorities in the state House and Senate.

Entering the final year of his first term, Cox has moved to the right on issues of “diversity, equity and inclusion.” After reviewing a 2022 ban on transgender students participating in women’s sports, Cox signed a bill in 2023 to regulate discussions about race and gender issues. For example, public schools ban religious instruction, teaching that anyone can be a racist simply because of their race.

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

Cox previously called requiring employees to sign a statement supporting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and on campus “horrible, bordering on evil.”

“We have been concerned about some DEI programs and policies, particularly hiring practices, and this bill provides a balanced solution,” Cox said in a statement Tuesday night.

The new law would prohibit universities and governments from establishing offices dedicated to promoting diversity or requiring employees to submit statements of commitment to DEI.

“It ensures academic freedom on college campuses for all,” Republican Keith Grover, the bill’s sponsor in the state Senate, said shortly before it ultimately passed Thursday in a 23-6 vote. All voices can be heard.”

House Democrats all voted against it, citing statistics showing minority enrollment in colleges and universities lags far behind that of white students.

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

The measures focus primarily on higher education, but Republicans are also sponsoring measures to limit DEI in K-12 schools, state governments, state contracts and pension investments. Some of the measures would prohibit financial institutions from discriminating against people who refuse to participate in DEI programs.

Meanwhile, Democrats in nine states have filed at least 20 bills requiring or promoting DEI measures.including measures to reverse Florida recently banned DEI in higher education and measures required to be considered in K-12 school curricula. Other measures apply to ferry workers in Washington state and the proposed New Jersey Offshore Wind Energy Institute.

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

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