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Wisconsin Assembly passes constitutional amendment to limit diversity efforts

Madison, Wisconsin
Posted at 11:36 AM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 12:36:54-05

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A constitutional amendment supported by Republicans that attempts to limit diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in Wisconsin won approval Thursday in the state Assembly.

The measure is the latest effort targeting DEI efforts nationwide, but it is a long way from becoming law in Wisconsin. It must also pass the Senate this year and then the full Legislature next session before it would go to a statewide vote to be added to the Wisconsin Constitution.

The Senate is only expected to be in session a couple more days before ending its work for the year in March.

Wisconsin Republicans have been proposing more constitutional amendments because they don't require a sign off from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. He has vetoed more bills than any other governor in state history, serving as a block on the agenda of Republicans who have strong majorities in the Legislature.

The proposal passed Thursday would prohibit state and local governments, including the Universities of Wisconsin and local school districts, from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to anybody on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. It requires hiring decisions to be based on “merit, fairness and equality,” a term conservatives have used as a counter to DEI.

Conservative backers of the constitutional amendment say the programs are discriminatory and promote left-wing ideology. Democratic supporters say the programs are necessary for ensuring institutions and government meet the needs of increasingly diverse populations.

The measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. David Murphy, said during debate that the amendment “restores merit, fairness and equality in hiring.”

But Democratic Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez derided the proposal as “divisive and manufactured” because it attempts to address problems she said don’t exist.

The Assembly passed it 62-35 on a straight party line vote.

The Wisconsin measure is modeled after a state constitutional amendment adopted in Michigan in 2006 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican authors of the proposal said.

The amendment is designed not to be in conflict with federal law, saying that it does not prohibit any action that must be taken to maintain eligibility for any federal program. There are numerous federal laws that already prohibit discrimination based on sex, race, color, nationality or religion.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, is the only registered supporter of the amendment in Wisconsin. The only registered opponents are the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the National Association of Social Workers.

Consideration of the amendment comes after Universities of Wisconsin agreed, under a narrowly approved deal reached with Republicans, to limit DEI positions throughout the system. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the deal the first step toward eliminating what he called “cancerous DEI practices" and requested a review of diversity initiatives across state government.