‘Divisive concepts’ bill dies for second straight legislative session

By: - June 13, 2023 6:59 am

Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, speaks on the phone in the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 6, 2023 in Montgomery, Ala. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector) Photo/Stew Milne)

A bill that would have banned the teaching of “divisive concepts” failed to pass the Legislature, and some Democratic lawmakers say it was due to a decision to focus on economic measures that would benefit the whole state.

HB7, sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, and SB247, sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, sponsored bills that would limit “divisive concepts” by some public groups, including schools.

Among other definitions, a “divisive concept” included “that fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, or to members of a race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, solely on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin,” per HB7. 


State agencies, local boards of education or a location of higher education would not be allowed to “direct or compel a student, employee, or contractor to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to a divisive concept,” among other measures.

A message was left with Barfoot on Friday. Both bills got committee approval but failed to come out for chamber votes and were indefinitely postponed on the official legislative website on May 31.  

Oliver said that they are “disappointed” the bill did not go further this year. 

“That bill as well as many other Republican bills failed at the end of the session for some inexplicable reason,” he said.

Democrats suggested Republican leadership was more interested in economic development in the session as opposed to some bills that were more “socially divisive,” according to Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove. 

“Some things that would really be helpful to all of the citizens of the state of Alabama,” she said. “And the leadership actually worked well together.”

Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said on Tuesday that leaders in the chamber “didn’t want to just bring something up that’s going to blow up the House floor if we knew it.”

Democrats said the bill would have inhibited the teaching of Black history (which Oliver denied) and condemned the legislation in its committee hearings this year. The bill passed the House in 2022, but only after a lengthy debate. It never came to a vote in the Senate. 

Anthony Daniels
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, speaks in the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 6, 2023 in Montgomery, Ala. (Stew Milne/Alabama Reflector)

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, also said that economic bills seemed to be the chamber’s priority this year. 

I think we realize the impact that certain pieces of legislation have on our ability to grow economically, as well as retain business in the state, and we understand how it makes people feel,” he said. “I think that we’re moving into that posture right now … if we want our state to grow, we know that image, the way people view us, matters.” 

A message seeking comment was left with Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. Senate Pro Tempore Greg Reed, R-Jasper, was not available for comment on Friday.

Coleman, who served in the Alabama House from 2002 to 2022, was elected to the Senate last year. She said the bills may have gone further last year because it was an election year.

“I think there’s some folks that had those bills out there because they were up for re-election,” she said. “I mean, that’s just the honest truth about it.”

Oliver said there are discussions to bring the bill back next year as well as discussions about an anti-diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) bill, similar to measures that Florida and Texas have passed.

“It’s not enough just to pass a bill, you want to make sure it works and does what you intended it to do,” he said. “We hit the ground running the day after the session ended.”

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.