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Black lawmakers in Texas criticize bill that seeks to ban DEI offices in higher education

Democratic Texas state Rep. Ron Reynolds of Missouri City criticized the passage of legislation that would ban diversity, equity and inclusion offices in higher education. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

(CNN) — The Texas House passed a bill Monday aimed at banning diversity, equity and inclusion offices in public colleges and universities, a move that Black leaders say will halt progress and stifle future research funding.

The legislation passed in an 83-62 vote and now heads back to the state Senate due to changes made by the House. If the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas will join other states including Florida and North Dakota that passed laws earlier this year targeting DEI programs, training and funding.

Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a Democrat representing San Antonio and vice chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said the legislation would take away resources from students and “put in jeopardy billions of dollars in grant/research funding that will exclude us from necessary discovery and industry-leading innovation.”

“Today, instead of moving forward, we have regressed detrimentally in our state,” Gervin-Hawkins said in a statement. “We must recognize that diversity is not a threat but a strength.”

The group’s chairman, Rep. Ron Reynolds who represents Missouri City, said in a statement that the passage of the legislation shows lawmakers are “out of touch with the future” of the state and will halt the state’s progress in becoming a leader for top talent and academic innovation.

The caucus said another consequence of the legislation would be potentially losing students and prospective students.

“What kind of message are we sending to African Americans, to Hispanics, to Asians, to the disabled, to veterans that will be adversely impacted by this piece of legislation?” Reynolds said on the House floor Monday.

The legislation, Senate Bill 17, would ban public colleges and universities in Texas from having DEI offices, DEI statements and prohibit them from implementing mandatory DEI training.

The bill’s author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican representing Conroe, has described DEI offices as “divisive” and said their work has made no progress on advancing or increasing diversity.

“With this bold, forward-thinking legislation to eliminate DEI programs, Texas is leading the nation, and ensuring our campuses return to focusing on the strength of diversity, promoting a merit-based approach where individuals are judged based on their qualifications, skills, and contributions,” Creighton said in a statement after the bill passed in the Senate last month.

In recent months, the term DEI has become the latest target among conservative politicians, echoing the debate over critical race theory in schools and students’ access to books relating to race, racism and LGBTQ issues.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation earlier this month to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs at all state universities.

“This is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination, and that has no place in our public institutions,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Sarasota.

Under the law, Florida state universities are barred from spending state or federal funds to promote, support or maintain any programs that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism.”

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