Republican lawmakers nationwide back dozens of bills targeting diversity efforts on campus and elsewhere

DEI DeSantis
Officials in other state say Rob DeSantis' push against DEI provided a model.

Diversity initiatives would be defunded or banned from universities and other public institutions under a slate of bills pending in Republican-led legislatures, with some lawmakers counting on the issue resonating with voters in this election year.

Meanwhile, Democrats have filed about two dozen bills in 11 states that would require or promote DEI initiatives. The bills cover a broad spectrum, including measures to reverse Florida’s recent ban on DEI in higher education and measures to require DEI considerations in K-12 school curricula in Washington state.

But already this year, Republican lawmakers have proposed about 50 bills in 20 states that would restrict initiatives on diversity, equity and inclusion — known as DEI — or require their public disclosure, according to an Associated Press analysis using the bill-tracking software Plural.

This is the second year Republican-led state governments have targeted DEI. This year’s bills, as well as executive orders and internal agency directives, again focus heavily on higher education. But the legislation also would limit DEI in K-12 schools, state government, contracting and pension investments. Some bills would bar financial institutions from discriminating against those who refuse to participate in DEI programs.

The Supreme Court’s June decision ending affirmative action at universities has created a new legal landscape around diversity programs in the workplace and civil society.

But DEI’s emergence as a political rallying cry has its roots on campus, with Republican opponents saying the 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.

Republican Oklahoma Sen. Rob Standridge, who has authored four bills aiming to hollow out DEI programs in the state, said it has become a salient campaign theme.

“I think it’s become more of a political thing,” Standridge said. “In other words, people are using it in their campaigns in a positive way. So now all of a sudden, maybe the people that didn’t care before are like, well, wait a minute, I can use this on a flier next year. And (Donald) Trump brings light to it, too.”

The organizations that help power the conservative agenda say DEI’s emergence at the center of political debate makes their crusade against it ripe for expansion.

“This has opened a window of opportunity, and we don’t want the window to close,” Mike Gonzalez, a fellow at powerful conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, said in an interview. “We want to meet this window with a robust policy agenda.”

In South Carolina, Rep. Josiah Magnuson, who introduced legislation to restrict DEI, said the issue reflects a growing sentiment among Republican lawmakers that ideologies disfavored by conservatives grow with the help of campus bureaucracies.

“We’re finding that our colleges and universities were kind of off the rails, and we need to rein them back in,” Magnuson said. “And so I think that’s another thing that’s providing a growing impetus to get our state universities under control.”

Not all Republicans are unified about which government approach is best suited to eliminate DEI.

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an executive order in December barring state agencies and universities from spending money on the programs. Standridge said it’s not clear what authority the order would have because Oklahoma’s universities are regulated by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, not the governor’s office.

“I appreciate the executive order but, arguably, it doesn’t really have the authority to force the schools to do anything,” Standridge said. “I ran several bills thinking maybe the moderates that are in control of the Senate would allow us to do something against DEI.”

For Washington state Sen. Marko Liias, DEI is crucial to serving a diverse society. Liias introduced a bill in the Democratic-controlled Legislature in 2023 to weave DEI concepts into the state’s K-12 learning standards. The bill, which is up for consideration again in 2024, is designed to meet the needs of a diversifying student population, he said.

“I think the opposition is organized around a political agenda, whereas I’m trying to respond to a diverse community that I represent and the experiences that they’re bringing to me,” Liias said. “So it’s sort of reality versus theory, what’s happening in our families and schools versus an agenda driven by national foundations. That’s the divide.”

Republican-led Florida and Texas were the first states to adopt broad-based laws banning DEI efforts in higher education. Since then, other state leaders have followed.

“The idea to study how much we were spending on DEI came from me seeing what other states were doing. Specifically, Ron DeSantis in Florida,” said Mississippi State Auditor Shad White, a Republican.

In a 2023 report, White said Mississippi’s public universities are spending millions on DEI programs instead of student scholarships.

In the opening weeks of Mississippi’s 2024 session, Rep. Becky Currie introduced a bill that would implement sweeping bans on not only DEI offices but also on funding campus activities deemed “social activism.” The bill has been referred to a House committee. Currie declined to be interviewed.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill into law on Jan. 30 that makes the state the latest to prohibit diversity training, hiring and inclusion programs at universities and in state government. Cox has called using diversity statements in hiring “bordering on evil.”

Republican legislators in Wisconsin brokered a narrowly approved deal with regents in December for the state’s public university system to limit diversity positions at its two dozen campuses. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, later said he had only just begun to remove “cancerous DEI practices” and requested a review of diversity initiatives across state government.

The crackdown on DEI is part of the same legislative project as the earlier movement to restrict the academic and legal ideas termed critical race theory, said Jonathan Butcher, a research fellow in education policy for The Heritage Foundation.

Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history based on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions.

“There is no separation. DEI is the application of critical race theory. DEI officers are the administrative control panels that are putting critical race theory into place,” Butcher said.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Florida’s Democratic House minority leader, thinks the ideological motive behind restricting DEI is intertwined with an economic agenda that downplays the role of identity in exacerbating inequality.

“It’s a flashpoint because the conservatives like to talk about meritocracy as their vision for a society where everybody can advance,” Driskell said. “Real life is actually more complicated than that. And that is what DEI programs are there to solve.”

___

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Associated Press


11 comments

  • Michael K

    February 11, 2024 at 9:48 am

    White people are so discriminated against!

    • Al Sharpton

      February 11, 2024 at 10:33 am

      Let’s put quotas in the NFL, NBA, etc. That’s only fair as we have them everywhere else.

  • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

    February 11, 2024 at 10:24 am

    Good mornting America,
    Our bestest Govornor Ever lead our Great Nation with Florida being THE STATE where woke goes To Die.
    Now all of the “Lesser 49 States” are chiming in too and pretending it was there idea.
    Thank you to Ron and The Beautiful Casey.
    Earl Pitts “Sage Life Coach” American

    • rick whitaker

      February 12, 2024 at 8:56 pm

      florida, where earl and other pigs go to wallow in shit. sphincter earl is at home in the white christian maga cultist capital of the south.

    • Degeneracy of Florida

      February 13, 2024 at 6:24 am

      No state income taxes.

      Anastasia State Park annual fee: $245

      Your State taxes are collected daily by State office like parks and DMV.

      Boobs.

  • PeterH

    February 11, 2024 at 2:14 pm

    Republicans are America’s worst enemy!

    Vote all Republicans out of office!

  • Dont Say FLA

    February 12, 2024 at 11:41 am

    Well, so much for Rhonda’s promise to stop masturbating and focus solely on governing for their next three lame duck years.

    • Sally B

      February 12, 2024 at 5:41 pm

      America’s Governor — Ron DeSantis — is setting not only the example but the template for all other states to emulate. To be copied by other free states is a form of flattery.

  • Michael K

    February 12, 2024 at 7:01 pm

    Only in a radical right wing fever dream would a universally disliked candidate lead a horrible campaign that wasted $150 million to make Florida a laughing stock of the nation. Ask the millions of Floridians who Little Dee has attacked just how “free” they feel after being used as cannon fodder for his personal political ambition. Nope, he’s not Americas governor – he’s just a bitter entitled whiner with no vision, just grievance. He’s a DeSaster

  • Degeneracy of Florida

    February 13, 2024 at 6:21 am

    About a decade before Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler championed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, she was a Sarasota socialite who partied with a coterie of gay friends.

    One of those pals, Nishit Patel, remembers a magical night in the early 2010s when they whooped it up at her parents’ house while the adults were away, swimming in the pool and singing and dancing in her mother’s furs. “That was Bridget,” Patel said of the now-41-year-old conservative education activist. “She was really, really sweet and kind.”
    “From the very get-go, we hit it off,” Patel said. “Of course the gay guy is going to gravitate toward the gorgeous blonde.”

    But the Bridget in Patel’s memories may be long gone. Fast forward to 2024, and Ziegler has behaved as a public education villain to queer students and families.

    She and her husband Christian Ziegler—the axed state GOP chair accused of rape—raised their profile in recent years by supporting anti-LGBTQ policies and right-wing rhetoric, inspiring a bumper sticker around town: “Save Sarasota, Deport the Zieglers.” Gov. Ron DeSantis also appointed her to the oversight board he created to punish Disney for its opposition to “Don’t Say Gay,” which restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Patel is just one old friend who told The Daily Beast that he lost touch with the Zieglers after their politics became more extreme. “I think they’re hypocrites, especially Bridget,” Patel said. “That’s what really bothers me about it, because I don’t think they believe the shit they spout, because they definitely don’t live it.”

    Now the Zieglers are embroiled in a sex scandal that falls outside of their carefully crafted facade of Republican “family values.”

    “Bridget’s the one that kind of breaks my heart, you know?”
    Last fall, the couple’s alleged threesome partner came forward with claims of sexual assault against Christian. While Sarasota cops ultimately didn’t pursue rape charges, they referred a video voyeurism case to the state attorney’s office.

Comments are closed.


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