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Valley News – Upper Valley businesses join opposition to ‘divisive topics’ bill

WEST LEBANON — About a dozen Upper Valley institutions, including Dartmouth College, have signed a letter urging New Hampshire lawmakers to reject legislation that critics say would ban businesses, schools and state contractors from teaching about systemic racism.

The measure, which is included in the budget approved last month by the New Hampshire House, would ban the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts,” including the belief that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.”

It also would prohibit teaching that the United States is “fundamentally racist or sexist,” and that any person, by virtue of their race or sex, is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”

Such impositions would likely hamper efforts to implement diversity training at New Hampshire businesses and make it harder to compete with other states, according to New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility.

By creating an image that the Granite State is “regressive and intolerant,” the legislation would leave firms struggling to attract out-of-state candidates seeking diversity, the coalition of employers said in a letter addressed to state senators and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Overall, passage of the legislation could “stymy our business’ brand image, or innovative spirit and economic opportunities,” said the letter, which was signed by more than 200 businesses.

Those with Upper Valley ties include Lebanon-based biotech startup Adimab, the Meriden Congregational Church, White River Junction consulting firm RSG, burrito chain Boloco, the Hanover Co-op Food Stores, Hypertherm, the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Lucky’s Coffee Garage, Mascoma Bank, Colby-Sawyer College, Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health.

The employer coalition said that New Hampshire should instead work to build an environment that “makes all our employees feel empowered in their roles.”

That means enabling “open and honest” discussions about racism and sexism that include implicit bias, or the unconscious attitudes and stereotypes people hold, according to the NHBSR letter. Members of the Dartmouth community urged college President Phil Hanlon to sign the letter, and the college did so last month.

In a statement on Friday, Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said it “prizes and defends the right of free speech and embraces open inquiry in all matters.”

Meanwhile, D-H spokeswoman Audra Burns referred a reporter to the hospital system’s February letter to the House opposing the legislation.

A D-H task force recently made recommendations on diversity that include system-wide education and training efforts, it said.

“We do not want the meaningful, difficult but necessary work in which we are engaged to be undermined by this proposed legislation, and we do not believe the state of New Hampshire should enable any impediment to attracting the best, most diverse, workforce possible,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock said in the February letter.

Those institutions aren’t alone in opposing the “divisive concepts” legislation. In April, the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire — the state’s chamber of commerce — came out against the measure, partially on free speech grounds.

“We cannot support language where the state is in a position to dictate to private enterprises what they can and cannot discuss with their employees,” BIA President Jim Roche told New Hampshire Business Review.

“Putting this language into statute would be a black eye for New Hampshire,” he added. “It would put the national spotlight on the Granite State, and not in a good way.”

Other groups, including the New Hampshire Medical Society, ACLU of New Hampshire and many of the state’s school districts opposed the measure when it initially came before the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee in February.

The legislation was first introduced as a standalone bill, HB 544, but the Republican-led House later inserted the language into its budget proposal.

Sununu also said he would “probably” veto the original bill, saying it limits free speech. He’s also been critical of its inclusion in the House budget.

Supporters of the bill have said they don’t believe in systemic racism and sponsor Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, likened those who conduct diversity training to “snake oil salesmen.”

People who testified also called critical race theory “indoctrination,” and claimed teaching it in schools promotes reverse racism.

The legislation largely resembles a federal executive order issued by then-President Donald Trump in November that restricted federal institutions from using curriculum about systemic racism, white privilege and other race and gender bias issues. President Joe Biden rescinded the order on Jan. 20.

The New Hampshire Senate is scheduled to take up testimony on the budget with public hearings scheduled for Tuesday.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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