A Kentucky Senate committee advances a bill limiting diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers plunged Thursday into the contentious issue of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on college campuses as a GOP-led Senate panel advanced a bill over objections from Democrats.

The Kentucky Statehouse
[File Photo]
The bill — introduced on the opening day of the legislative session — received its first committee hearing more than a month later, as lawmakers approach the halfway point of the 60-day session. Supporters say it’s a needed response to what they see as discriminatory trends in higher education. Opponents say the measure could hurt efforts to expand the presence of underrepresented groups on campuses.
The measure won approval from the Senate Education Committee to advance to the full Senate, where Republicans hold an overwhelming majority.
Republican Sen. Mike Wilson, the bill’s lead sponsor, said lawmakers are justified in delving into the issues because of their primary role in determining how state funds are spent in education.”We need to ensure that those funds are promoting educational excellence and rigor to help our students … succeed in this 21st century, intellectual economy and not trendy, divisive, ivory tower theories,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Reginald Thomas countered that there’s a misunderstanding of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campuses. He said those initiatives are working to create broader opportunities that include underrepresented groups of people.

“The fundamental notion of DEI programs is that everybody should be included, that all people belong in the college setting,” Thomas said in opposing the measure. “And that we only grow … as a nation when we all participate in the process. That we do learn from each other, in all sorts of ways.”

Similar debates are ongoing in other statehouses around the country. Already this year, GOP lawmakers in at least 17 states have proposed some three dozen bills to restrict or require public disclosure of DEI initiatives, according to an Associated Press analysis using the bill-tracking software Plural.

Wilson told the committee that he filed the bill on behalf of students and faculty at risk of having their free-speech rights violated amid a “stifling, politically correct academic atmosphere.”

Among other things, the measure would bar public colleges and universities from providing preferential treatment based on a person’s political ideology. It would bar the schools from requiring people to state specific ideologies or beliefs when seeking admission, employment, or promotions.

The legislation sets out a host of “discriminatory concepts” that would be prohibited. In one example, it would ban the concept that a person, based on his or her race or gender, bears responsibility for past actions committed by other members of the same race or gender. Another is meant to keep people from feeling guilt or discomfort solely because of their race or gender.

The bill would allow the state attorney general’s office to take legal action to compel a school’s compliance.

The original measure would have allowed university employees and students to sue if they believed they had been discriminated against due to their “refusal to support or endorse any divisive concept.” Wilson said Thursday that he agreed to remove that language at the request of universities.

Wilson said the bill aims to protect free-speech rights for everyone and said it would not prohibit diversity initiatives on campuses.

Republican Sen. Danny Carroll vented his frustration over what he called “a struggling issue.”

“Like many of these related issues, because of the extremes on the left and right, the people in the middle, the majority, are the ones being impacted by all of this,” Carroll said.

“I think we all want everyone to be comfortable in our colleges and our universities with their education, to be comfortable on campus, to be treated with respect, to be treated fairly,” he added. “We all want the same thing. But because of extremes on both sides, it’s getting harder and harder to accomplish that.”


The legislation is Senate Bill 6.