Alabama Republicans approve anti-DEI bill, absentee ballot limits

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday advanced a bill that would prohibit diversity, equity and inclusion programs at universities and state agencies and another to put limits on absentee ballot assistance.

Representatives approved both bills on 75-28 party-line votes after Republicans moved to cut off debate. Both measures return to the Alabama Senate for senators to consider House changes.

Republican lawmakers across the country have pushed initiatives that would restrict diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, also known as DEI. The Alabama debate laid bare sharp differences in viewpoints and politics in the House of Representatives as white Republicans said they are trying to guard against programs that “deepen divisions” and Black Democrats called it an effort to roll back affirmative action programs that welcome and encourage diversity.

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan speaks as she debates over SB159 bill (IVF Fertility Bill) in the House Chambers, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)

The bill would prohibit universities, K-12 school systems and state agencies from sponsoring DEI programs, defined under the bill as classes, training, programs and events where attendance is based on a person’s race sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation.

“Their effect on college campuses as well as K-12 is to deepen divisions, set race exclusionary programs and indoctrinate students into a far-left political ideology,” Republican Rep. Ed Oliver said.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, called the legislation “Alabama’s attempt to kill affirmative action” in a state with a long history of racial hatred and discrimination.

“I can’t help but see hatred in this. I see something that you’re holding against somebody because of who they are or what they are. And that really disturbs me,” said Democratic Rep. Pebblin Warren.

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The bill lists “divisive concepts” that would be forbidden in classroom lessons and worker training — including instruction that “any individual should accept, acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to apologize on the basis of his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”

“What it does is put everybody on a level playing field regardless of race or ethnicity,” House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, a Republican, said of the bill.

The approval came after lawmakers began the day with a program to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, a unit of Black pilots in World War II who battled racism at home to fight for freedom. “This was a terrible day for people who like justice in Alabama — to have those two extremely controversial bills back to back,” Democratic Rep. Prince Chestnut said.

Lawmakers also approved legislation that would make it a felony to pay someone, or receive payment, to order, prefill, collect or deliver another person’s absentee ballot application.

Ledbetter said it is needed to combat voter fraud through “ballot harvesting,” a term for the collection of multiple absentee ballots. Democrats argued that there is no proof that ballot harvesting exists. The bill also returns to the Alabama Senate.

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Alabama House Republicans passed two bills on a party-line vote that would prohibit diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at universities and state agencies, as well as put limits on absentee ballot assistance. The DEI program ban would apply to classes, training, programs, and events based on race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation. Republicans argued that these programs deepen divisions and promote a left-wing political ideology, while Democrats saw it as an attempt to roll back affirmative action programs. The bill also lists “divisive concepts” that would be forbidden in classroom lessons and worker training. Additionally, a separate bill made it a felony to pay or receive payment for ordering, prefilling, collecting, or delivering another person’s absentee ballot application to combat alleged voter fraud through “ballot harvesting.” Democrats disputed the need for this measure. The approval of these bills came after a program honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, a unit of Black pilots who fought racism in World War II.

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