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Texas Democrats decry GOP push to ban diversity programs in state agencies

The governor told agency leaders to stop considering diversity in hiring decisions, and Republican lawmakers want to codify the ban.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Black and Latino members of the Texas House of Representatives are condemning Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s order directing state agencies and public universities to stop implementing diversity, equity and inclusion policies in the hiring process.

Ron Reynolds, a Democrat from Missouri City and chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that he is outraged by Abbott’s claim that so-called DEI policies are discriminatory.

“Governor Abbott has chosen, adding insult to injury no less, during Black History Month, that this state is going to go... back toward a Jim Crowe era-type of politics, where we don’t want to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Reynolds said. “Well, I’ve got news for Governor Abbott, we are going to speak truth to power and we are going to fight."

Reynold’s comments come a week after the Texas Tribune broke the news that Abbott’s chief of staff, Gardner Pate, had sent letters to state agency and public university leaders, asserting that using diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in hiring is illegal under state and federal law. One letter, obtained by Houston CBS affiliate KHOU 11, was addressed to the executive director of the Employment Retirement System of Texas and said that using diversity as a screening tool in hiring leads to the “exclusion and alienation of individuals from the workplace.”

The letter added that "when a state agency adjusts its employment practices based on factors other than merit, it is not following the law.”

DEI policies and standards have been used in workplaces as a way to advance the fair and equal treatment of groups who have historically been underrepresented or faced discrimination. Such policies come in the form of hiring goals, in which employers purposefully seek prospective employees from a specific group to interview, and workplace resources for LGBTQ staffers, people who are disabled and veterans. 

Those in attendance at the press conference on Tuesday included leaders from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, League of United Latin American Citizens, Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce and Texas chapter of the NAACP.

Together with lawmakers, the groups requested that the NBA, NFL, MLB and NCAA not host championship games in the state until Abbott withdraws his order. They also made a plea to companies to urge the governor to reverse course and speak out in favor of DEI policies.

Lawmakers also took jabs at Abbott over his speculated run for president in 2024, saying his anti-diversity order was a means to position himself for a possible Republican primary face-off against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who earlier this month announced his plans to block state universities from using DEI policies.

“Anybody who is astute, who has read the polls, watched the news, knows that [Abbott] is competing, unfortunately, with Governor DeSantis in Florida to see who can be the most Trumpian,” Reynolds said.  

In the Lone Star State, a push among Republican lawmakers to formally ban the use of DEI policies in higher education is underway. 

House Bill 1006, filed by GOP Representative Carl Tepper of Lubbock, would require public institutions of higher learning to adopt a policy that prohibits funding, promoting, sponsoring or supporting any campus office of diversity, equity and inclusion. On Monday, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced that passing a Senate bill banning DEI in higher education is just one of his top 30 legislative priorities this session. 

In recent years, Republicans have positioned themselves against teachers and university professors over issues like critical race theory. Last March, Patrick quarreled with professors at the University of Texas at Austin after they approved a resolution affirming their commitment to academic freedom. The lieutenant governor responded by pledging to ban the teaching of critical race theory in higher education and end academic tenure at public universities in the state. Both of those proposals are expected to be introduced during the current legislative session. 

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