The first anti-DEI bill of the Utah legislative session is now public. Here’s what it says.

Republican Rep. Katy Hall says it’s time to ban ‘discriminatory practices’ in both public higher education and K-12 schools.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, listens during a news conference to discuss the Utah House GOP priorities for the 2024 legislative session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. Hall is running a bill limiting the use of so-called diversity statements in the hiring process for public higher education and K-12 positions.

Utah’s public colleges and K-12 schools would be banned from asking job applicants for a statement about their beliefs on diversity or inclusion — and could lose state funding for violating that — under the first bill publicly released on the contentious topic ahead of the legislative session. And the lawmaker who drafted it is now saying she also want to reframe campus diversity offices.

The much-anticipated language for the measure, sponsored by Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, went online Thursday night and is numbered HB261. It offers the first concrete look at how conservative state leaders will act on their promises to dismantle DEI, or diversity, equity and inclusion, efforts in education.

“This legislation aims to support all students and faculty while promoting an environment of free, diverse and open opinions,” Hall said in a statement.

Many advocates had worried that Hall’s bill would seek to completely eradicate all DEI offices at Utah’s universities. Hall and Sen. Keith Grover, R- Provo, who is co-sponsoring the measure, told FOX 13 News that they intend to have those offices transformed into more general “student success and support” programs that are not based on race.

“I don’t know if abolish ... it’s probably not the right word, it’s more of capturing more students into what was originally in those offices to make sure everyone succeeds,” Grover told FOX 13 News.

The bill language doesn’t capture that, but instead says universities would need to create new “student success and support” offices.

Conservative lawmakers in Utah have previously said that offices to support Latino or Black students, for instance, who studies show have disadvantages that make them less likely to complete a degree, are biased against white students who may also face challenges. The offices proposed by Hall and Grover would cater to any student who may need support to graduate.

Additionally, the wide-sweeping bill ranges from limitations on diversity considerations during the hiring process to new requirements for universities to publish online all titles and syllabi for mandatory courses.

There are also provisions in the draft for universities to annually train all employees “on the separation of personal political advocacy from an institution’s business” — while also eliminating any training on so-called “discriminatory practices.”

The definition provided for discriminatory practices in the bill mirrors the language previously approved by the Republican-majority Utah Legislature when banning any teaching of critical race theory in K-12 classrooms.

It says that a university or K-12 school cannot have policies or trainings, programs or initiatives that suggest someone’s personal identity — race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, or religion — makes them inherently superior or inferior to another person.

The bill is similar to legislation Hall ran last year toward the end of the session that did not pass, also about banning schools from asking applicants about their work to further diversity and inclusion.

But in the interim, the focus on diversity programs at Utah’s eight public colleges has intensified — with the support of Gov. Spencer Cox in interrogating those efforts.

Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs are meant to support students from underrepresented backgrounds, including race and ethnicity, as well as single parents or individuals with disabilities.

But Republicans in Utah — and across the nation — have said the initiatives have gotten out of hand. Cox said he is concerned by how much money is spent on the diversity offices at Utah’s schools and suggested he hasn’t seen the outcomes to support that funding. He also railed against colleges requiring what he called “diversity statements you have to sign to get hired,” saying the practice is “bordering on evil.”

The state’s eight public colleges and universities have said those statements don’t exist in the way Cox described, though some acknowledged they have asked employees to write a statement about their own beliefs regarding equity and diversity as part of their job application.

The University of Utah announced last week that it would do away with those questions — and all questions about diversity — during its hiring process.

HB261 bill would reinforce that in law.

Hall has said she sees those questions as “litmus tests” in hiring faculty and staff.

A news release announcing her measure repeats that, noting: “The bill puts common-sense policies in place for government agencies and universities by not requiring job applicants to pass an ideological litmus test or demanding that students or faculty in Utah’s universities adhere to a particular ideology to graduate or be hired.”

In banning statements on diversity in job applications, the bill specifically states that includes anything on anti-racism, implicit bias and intersectionality.

There is a caveat provided for when schools are required to ask about diversity and inclusion, as part of federal law for grant funding or a nationally-funded position, but a university must provide evidence of that requirement in a report to the Legislature every two years. The same applies to Utah K-12 schools.

There was a concern among university leaders that shutting down questions about diversity — many of which are required for faculty positions funded by the federal government — could threaten those going forward.

Any violations of the requirements are to be reported to the Board of Higher Education for public colleges or the Utah Board of Education for K-12 schools. An institution will then have 180 days to “cure the violation” or be at risk of losing state funding.

The bill also outlines several provisions for what it calls “equal opportunity initiatives” meant to foster campuses open to all ideas — though lawmakers have specifically said they feel like conservative voices are being silenced and need to be bolstered.

To that end, universities are instructed to “develop strategies to promote viewpoint diversity.” They also must train faculty on “academic freedom and freedom of speech” — while the university administration must remain neutral on political issues. That aligns with policy already put in place by the Board of Higher Education.

And schools would need to conduct a “campus expression climate survey” to assess how students, faculty and staff perceive their ability to speak openly and freely. The University of Utah similarly announced last week that it had formed a task force to study that.

Utah Senate Democratic Leader Luz Escamilla and House of Representatives Democratic Leader Angela Romero reacted to the bill with a statement Thursday.

The two leaders say they worry about “potential unintended consequences” with the measure.

“It is crucial to understand the message this bill sends to our communities, many of which have been historically marginalized and underrepresented,” they wrote.

The session starts on Tuesday, and there will be committee hearings on HB261 where the public can weigh in.