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The Utah Senate approves a diversity, equity, and inclusion bill; however, Democrats express strong opposition.

The Utah Senate has given the go-ahead to a contentious measure, HB261, that seeks to overhaul diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in the state. The bill, approved in a 23-6 party-line vote, is heading back to the House for further consideration after undergoing changes and clarifications in the Senate. If it secures approval in the House and receives Governor Spencer Cox’s signature, the legislation will significantly impact diversity initiatives in public college campuses and other public entities.

Sen. Keith Grover, the bill’s Senate sponsor, stressed the importance of academic freedom on university campuses and the promotion of equality of opportunity through student success centers. Notably, the measure prohibits government employers, including universities, from requesting “diversity statements” from job seekers to assess their views on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

However, Democratic senators voiced criticism and raised concerns about the bill. Sen. Luz Escamilla expressed that despite the bill’s claim to uplift everyone, it seems to erase some and their history. Sen. Karen Kwan voiced worries about potential disruptions to support systems designed to assist students facing greater challenges, particularly students of color.

The measure’s expansion of diversity initiatives to include white and other students drew criticism, with opponents arguing that certain minority students require targeted attention to thrive in a college environment. There are also concerns that the legislation might jeopardize essential support systems and eliminate dedicated spaces for students who rely on them.

Amendments to the bill include language aimed at safeguarding the ability of healthcare officials to collect information on diseases that may disproportionately impact specific racial or ethnic groups. The legislation also introduces provisions related to “academic freedom,” addressing fears that conservative voices may face marginalization on university campuses.

The swift progress of the bill through the Legislature has sparked debate, with Democrats opposing the proposals. Despite the legislative session only recently commencing in 2024, both HB261 and another controversial measure, HB257, which imposes restrictions on certain transgender individuals’ use of public bathrooms, have gained support from the GOP-dominated Legislature.

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