MONTGOMERY — Despite vigorous Democratic debate and protest, the Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation banning state-funded diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices.

Senate Bill 129 (SB129), sponsored by State Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road), prohibits state agencies, schools and colleges from sponsoring or requiring students and employees to attend or participate in any diversity, equity and inclusion program, training, orientation or coursework that advocates for or requires assent to a divisive concept.

The bill would prohibit public entities from "promoting, endorsing, or requiring affirmation of certain divisive concepts relating to race, sex, or religion." Similar legislation introduced by State Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) passed the House in 2023

The legislation would prohibit certain public entities from conditioning enrollment or attendance in certain classes or training based on race or color. It would also authorize certain public entities to discipline or terminate employees or contractors who violate this act. The bill would provide that some circumstances regarding accreditation, academic instruction, student groups, and other scenarios are not prohibited. 

Oliver presented the bill before the House, sitting through lengthy protestation from Democrats.

"The DEI programs exist to promote the equitable participation of underrepresented people in education, nothing more and nothing less," said State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham). "We are not all afforded the same opportunities, and DEI is simply just a tool that's seeking to remedy that."

Several lawmakers claimed the bill would prevent legitimate diversity within schools and public entities. A claim Oliver vehemently denied.

"What we believe at this point is that these programs don't work," Oliver said. "It's a lot of money that we spend at our major universities. If you look at the percentage of minority students say at Auburn, what, 5%? You look at the University of Alabama, a slightly larger number. But you look at Troy that has no Dei program, has never had one, and it's the most diverse campus in the state."

Democrats showed no sign of stopping after nearly three hours of debate, the House approved a motion to cloture debate, ending ultimately in a final vote of 75-28 along party lines.

After the bill passed, The House Democratic Caucus gathered to address the media, disappointed in the bill's passage.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) spoke first, saying he anticipates legal challenges to the law, similar to the ones filed against analogous legislation in Florida.

"As you know, today, the state of Alabama committed a sin," Daniels said. "By limiting its restrictions to a list of ideas designated as offenses, the act targets speech based upon the content. The state of Alabaman today has really taken us backward. We are in a place where we want people to enjoy diversity, equity and inclusion in our state. We want to attract people to the state of Alabama to live, work and play. But today is another example that we are trying to continue to divide our state."

"I am hopeful that organizations start to file a lawsuit. Even if we have to file a lawsuit about this particular issue, we will. But we hope that other organizations pay close attention to this and start the process of filing a lawsuit."

He continued, "This is a super racist bill. They've added all different elements of pieces of legislation they've tried to pass in previous years that didn't work out the way they wanted it to, and they're doing it under the name of DEI. And, because of the national culture of the Republican party, and their emphasis on trying to attack open-minded individuals that want all people to be able to prosper in any way they can."

Daniels juxtaposed the DEI issue with the recent IVF law signed by Gov. Kay Ivey. According to Daniels, the legislature will realize its mistake when the DEI ban takes jobs and students away from the state.

"When enrollment starts to get impacted by your flagship institutions, then that's going to send a separate message," Daniels said. "When we're not able to recruit families into the state of Alabama to live and to start their families or to even bring their families here, then we're going to look at making changes. It's just like the IVF issue. We got that done quickly because of the outrage and because of the economic side of it. It wasn't because of the issue itself; it was because of the economic impact. And so, economics is the only thing that they know."

The Senate must still concur with the House amendments to the bill before going to Ivey for her signature.

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