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Designated diversity programs are rare in state government

The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City
The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill prohibiting state agencies from having “diversity, equity, and inclusion” or similar programs passed out of a House committee this week.

The bill, HB 2619, aims to prevent agencies from promoting “preferential treatment based on certain characteristics, concepts such as oppression as the sole cause of disparities, collective guilt ideologies, intersectional or divisive identity activism, and the limiting of freedom of conscience, thought, or speech.”

A Missourian review of state agency budget requests, which include every line item of spending a department is seeking, found the expression “diversity, equity, and inclusion” practically nonexistent. Neither the term “collective guilt ideology” nor “intersectionality” was found in any of the requests.

Even though very little money is appropriated directly to programs designated as DEI, those concepts could still be part of an agency’s internal practices, hiring and workplace culture. Since DEI is not defined in the bill, it’s unclear how much internal change would be necessary if it passed.

Last session, DEI restrictions were debated in the Senate during the budget process but failed to pass. Standalone bills were also proposed to restrict DEI. As the issue was debated in the legislature, the University of Missouri removed the DEI statement requirement during the hiring process.

The House bill is not one of the appropriations bills, although supporters could attempt to attach its language to an appropriations bill during floor debate.

These are the state agencies with diversity programs in their budget requests and what those programs look like. Agencies declined to comment on the proposed ban on funding for diversity and inclusion programs because that is pending legislation.

Department of Secondary Education

The Grow Your Own Program provides grants to school districts and community colleges to foster a diverse teacher workforce from low-resourced communities. The DESE budget request notes that teachers in lower-resourced areas tend to stay and teach in those areas. The report also notes that high attrition rates in Missouri have left “high minority, high poverty and rural remote schools” short on educators.

Department of Revenue

Hearing officers, who preside over property value hearings, must undergo one hour of diversity, inclusion and implicit bias training each year.

Transportation Department

The Equal Opportunity and Diversity Division at the Missouri Department of Transportation “researches, develops, coordinates and implements initiatives that advance MoDOT values of an inclusive work environment to ensure equitable opportunities exist for all employees,” according to the division’s masthead.

The department also has a diversity “plan of positive action to overcome the present effects of past policies or practices that were barriers to equal employment of women, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians and any other groups that have been found historically to be underutilized in the workforce or otherwise adversely affected.”

Office of Administration

The department plans to improve recruitment, resiliency and connection with the community through diversity and inclusion.

Within the OA is the Office of Equal Opportunity, which has existed since 1994 and “has primary responsibility for assisting in the coordination and implementation of minority and women participation programs throughout all departments of the executive branch of state government.”

The Office of Equal Opportunity has a supplier diversity program that encourages utilizing minority, women and veteran-owned small businesses.

Department of Natural Resources

The department has a director of diversity and inclusion.

Department of Health and Senior Services

The department commits to “include diversity and inclusion in all practices, programs and services.”

These six departments of the 17 in Missouri are the only ones with specific diversity programs in their requests. Other departments, such as corrections, have some language about diversity and inclusion on their webpages but no budget requests for diversity programs.

All the budget items mentioned above would be fully funded under the governor’s proposed budget.

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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