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House passes bill prohibiting DEI programs, divisive concepts

The intent of the bill is to root out DEI programs on college campuses and other state entities.

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After two hours of debate on Thursday, only one Black representative in the Alabama House voted in favor of SB129, a bill targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

All other Black members voted against the bill. Only two white lawmakers joined them—Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, and Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery. Rafferty is the state’s only openly gay lawmaker and Ensler is Jewish. The lone Black lawmaker in favor of the bill was Rep. Kenneth Paschal of Pelham, the state’s lone Black Republican Lawmaker.

Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, carried the bill originated by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, through the House. The bill brings back language from Oliver’s bills in the previous session targeting “divisive concepts” being taught in schools and other state entities. 

The intent of the bill is to root out DEI programs on college campuses and other state entities—Oliver said the original complaint that birthed the legislation came from a University of Alabama student came to Oliver stating that students were being indoctrinated.

“In this particular case it was a rant about law enforcement and it was very personal, and it was an attack on people who actually protect and serve us,” Oliver told Rep. Ontario Tillman, D-, on the floor. “There was a child involved that was being forced to comply with what the group was doing, the groupthink, and this was a child that’s uncle was a law enforcement officer. All of a sudden it struck this child that this was unacceptable and this person would no longer be a part of that class and actually withdrew.”

Oliver said he didn’t want to give too much information and identify the person, but what Oliver did reveal doesn’t match up with the bill and lacks certain internal logical consistencies. 

For one, Oliver calls this constituent “a child” multiple times despite the fact this person was attending UA. While it is possible the student was 17  at the time of the incident, most college students are 18 and above.

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Oliver also describes the situation as a “rant against law enforcement officers” and linked the scenario to “compelled speech,” but gave no details on what the student was expected to comply to. And he also didn’t explain how this bill would address such a situation, which deals with concepts along racial, gender, religious and sexual lines but says nothing about maligning any profession, much less law enforcement officers in particular.

More than 100 Alabama students packed the halls of the Statehouse Wednesday to oppose the bill and stood outside a House Republican Caucus lunch to attempt to discuss concerns with lawmakers. But reports say that lawmakers saw the students and exited another way in apparent avoidance of the conversation. 

ALGOP Chairman John Wahl did come out to engage with the students.

Oliver and other Republican lawmakers have framed DEI programs as maligning conservative, white and male students.

“DEI programs are radical and divisive offshoots of Critical Race Theory, which we know as CRT,” Oliver said. “Even though the bill never mentions that, it does its best to thwart those efforts. Their effect on college campuses, as well as K-12, is to deepen divisions, set up race-exclusionary programs and indoctrinate students into far-left political ideology.”

Rafferty challenged those characterizations during his 10 minutes speaking on the bill.

“Let’s get this straight: DEI programs primarily exist to promote the equitable participation of underrepresented people in education,” Rafferty told Oliver. “Nothing more, nothing less … ‘Inclusion’ does not mean ‘exclusion of you.’”

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Lawmakers rushed the bill along while concerns have surfaced over the past two days about potential implications for NCAA Division 1 athletics, including college football.

Writer Michael Harriot pointed out the potential snafu in a viral “X” post Wednesday.

The NCAA requires member institutions to complete an equity, diversity and inclusion review at least once every four years.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said in a press conference following the bill’s passage that he hopes lawsuits are being prepared to challenge the law.

“Even if we have to file a lawsuit about this particular issue, we will,” he said.

The bill now goes back to the Senate for concurrence or a conference committee.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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