Bill to ban diversity and inclusion training for state employees heard in House committee

By: - March 21, 2023 12:03 pm

Montana’s state capitol photographed as it snows on March 10, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

Sen. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls, provided two examples of situations where he’d heard of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training happening in Montana during a hearing for his bill that would ban such instruction for state employees.

One was in a Twitter exchange in which Trebas said a user told him, “‘Soon we’ll be subjected to almost 50 trainings before June.”

The other was a family member who worked for a Montana State University extension office, which wouldn’t be subject to changes made by the bill in its current version.

Senate Bill 222, based on the Florida “Stop WOKE Act,” had three opponents during a hearing in House State Administration on Monday, including the ACLU of Montana and DEI instructor Meshayla Cox, as well as one proponent.

Legal counsel for the Department of Administration Don Harris said he wasn’t aware of DEI training being required at the moment as part of the onboarding process for state employees.

The bill, also known as the “Montana Individual Freedom Act,” passed out of the Senate and would ban training that might make state employees feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress.” The bill was amended to exclude state employees in the university system.

“I think it’s fair to say that academic institutions should be places of higher learning with broad debate and viewpoints,” Trebas said of the amendment.

Florida’s “Stop WOKE” legislation is currently enjoined in the courts as it applies to colleges and universities in the state, as reported by NBC News.

Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell, asked Trebas if he would be interested in conducting a study on the issue in Montana, or if this was more preventative, to which Trebas said it would be the latter.

“I’m not a terribly big fan of studies,” Trebas said. “Mostly because we can study it individually. And heck, I can go to YouTube and see if I can find some of these trainings that I can watch for myself, just so I can participate in one, and see what I think.”

Sprunger responded, “Do you have any concerns that by taking something from another state or a national [source] or YouTube that we’re potentially not customizing to the unique nature of Montana and the people here?”

Trebas said he didn’t like boilerplate language, but said that Montana is on “parallel tracks” to states like Florida and Tennessee.

“Could it be sharpened, say, by the committee in our amendment process? Absolutely. So that’s kind of what this whole process is for is to make it unique to us,” he said.

Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, D-Browning, asked if the trainings he’d heard about in Montana were about the Native American community and the historical trauma tribes in the state faced. Trebas said he did not think that was the case for the two examples he referenced.

Rep. Denise Baum, D- Billings, said she received several bias trainings being in law enforcement, and she found them to be informative as opposed to one-sided.

Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, asked whether DEI training would be restricted for law enforcement under the bill. He spoke to the rise in antisemitic activity in the country, as well as in the state, and how he as a rabbi has the local police chief’s personal number due to issues in his district.

Angelina González-Aller with the Montana Human Rights Network said in her reading of the bill, police would be able to opt out of DEI trainings.

The committee did not immediately take action on the bill.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.