Utah’s businesses forcing DEI practices on workers, GOP lawmaker says — but can’t provide an example

While Republicans expressed concern about interfering with private companies, GOP lawmakers on the House Business and Labor Committee passed the bill.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, during the start of the 2024 legislative session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. Jimenez is proposing a law that would block DEI practices in private companies.

Echoing critical race theory panic of years past, one Utah lawmaker says the state should prevent private companies from requiring employees to embrace diversity and inclusion practices. The bill’s Republican sponsor would not provide evidence that businesses were forcing employees to participate in DEI programs.

It used to be orthodoxy among Utah Republicans that government should not interfere with private businesses. Over the past few years, the GOP-controlled legislature has embraced a newfound zeal for using the power of the state to stop the private sector from implementing programs, real and imagined, that have become a flashpoint for the Republican base.

In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, the fringes of the political right demanded that lawmakers block private businesses in the state from requiring proof of vaccination for employees and customers. Lawmakers passed that legislation last year even though so-called “vaccine passports” are largely nonexistent.

The latest effort to bring the private sector to heel by lawmakers is related to the current right-wing panic over diversity, equity and inclusion programs — or DEI. HB111 from Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, prevents private companies from requiring employees to profess a belief that members of one race are “morally superior” to members of another race or that a person is inherently “racist, sexist or oppressive.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Jimenez struggled to articulate to the House Business and Labor Committee what he was trying to accomplish or the exact problem his bill would remedy.

“There are ideas like work ethic — how racist is it to have an employer come in and say this particular race doesn’t have a good work ethic,” Jimenez said to his colleagues. “You’re making a blanket statement about a race of people. The employer can say that if they want to in their training, but if they require you to say you believe all people of this race don’t have a hard work ethic, that’s compelled speech. When they make you comply with their belief system, that’s when they cross the line.”

Similar to lawmakers who have proposed bills targeting transgender Utahns this year and removing DEI practices at public universities and schools, Jimenez provided only anecdotal evidence to support his proposal.

“The most egregious example I’ve heard is from some individuals who said they were working with state law enforcement. They said they had undergone some training that law enforcement was inherently stacked against some members of a particular minority community, and they had to agree with that in order to be employed there,” Jimenez said. “That’s compelled speech and, quite frankly, I think it’s a pretty racist statement.”

Jimenez did not identify any of the individuals behind that claim during the committee meeting and refused to provide any more details about the alleged incident when contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune.

“I am not going to share the individual’s details or further information,” Jimenez said in a text message. “I said what I could in committee.”

Before the 2024 legislative session began, GOP political leaders wouldn’t discuss DEI bills they were planning to propose this year.

Under HB111, an employee who believes they were unlawfully forced to agree with a concept to file a complaint with the state.

His Republican colleagues on the committee were bothered by having the state intrude into matters involving the private sector.

“I do have a little bit of heartburn when we go into the private space,” Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, said.

In the end, Brammer and his Republican colleagues on the committee approved the bill on a straight party-line vote, with the two Democrats on the committee voting against the legislation. Lawmakers will next vote on HB111 on the House floor.