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March 13, 2024

Lawmakers consider bill that would create 24 DEI directors within state government

HBJ Photo | Skyler Frazer Members of the General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee discuss proposals during the opening week of the 2024 legislative session.

A bill in the General Assembly that would create new diversity, equity and inclusion roles within all state government departments is receiving pushback from the Lamont administration, which has already pitched a plan to hire a chief equity and opportunity officer within the governor’s office.

What’s in the bill:

Senate Bill 414, which was introduced by the Labor and Public Employees Committee, would require 24 state government departments to each establish a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) division led by a full-time, salaried director. The positions would oversee diversity, equity and inclusion-related initiatives and policies within their departments.

The director would also have to create an equity action plan that identifies specific DEI goals for their department and report and track data for those goals. They would also oversee certain hiring and employment-related practices in their departments.

What’s at stake:

DEI initiatives have been ramping up both in the public and private sectors in recent years as companies and governments aim to address racial disparity in the workplace. 

Some DEI efforts, however, have been getting pushback, especially in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last year that effectively ended race-based admissions programs at colleges. 

Who’s for it:

The co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Maryam Khan (D-Windsor) and Rep. Robyn A. Porter (D-New Haven). 

Also supporting it is the Commission on Racial Equity in Public Health, which issued a report in December that recommended ways to “dismantle structural racism within Connecticut state government.” In testimony supporting the bill, the commission said the proposal contains several employment-related recommendations it suggested.

State Comptroller Sean Scanlon also submitted testimony supporting the bill, calling DEI efforts important, especially within a state government that oversees a diverse population and workforce. He said that state agencies each have “unique challenges that demand unique, individualized DEI recruitment strategies.”

“Regardless of best efforts and intentions by agency leaders struggling every day to meet their mission-critical needs, existing recruitment strategies are simply not working for certain agencies and occupations. This legislation hopes to correct that by requiring agencies to hire employees dedicated to DEI initiatives, including analyzing, strategizing and implementing DEI recruitment strategies and other strategic DEI initiatives,” Scanlon said.

Who’s against it:

Jeffrey Beckham, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), said that while he appreciates the spirit of the bill, he believes Gov. Lamont’s plan to create a chief equity and opportunity officer within his office provides a better plan.

In Lamont’s budget adjustment suggestions pitched at the start of the session, the Democratic governor introduced a plan to hire a chief equity officer to work with state agencies to ensure “their plans, programs, and communications are developed with intention to support disadvantaged communities.” 

The chief equity officer would oversee “equity action plans” in all departments and be supported within existing state resources, according to documents from the governor.

“I ask that the committee allow the Governor to proceed with his plan and not to impose the additional administrative requirements found in this bill that may detract from or delay the implementation of such plan,” Beckham said. “The lack of oversight and coordination will likely result in significant duplicative work, such as establishing trainings and policies, that could be better performed – and at a less expensive cost – by one centralized office.”

What’s next:

The Labor and Public Employees Committee held a public hearing Tuesday to hear from constituents about the proposal. No further action has been taken on the bill.

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