COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A Biden administration official is warning Ohio about state legislation that limits discussion of race, gender and sexuality in schools — such as House Bill 616 — saying it could put off businesses looking to invest in the state.
“We know that the most profitable companies are those that have embraced the diversity of their employees and their communities,” said Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves in an interview with NBC4.
Graves, a Cleveland native, said he doesn’t want to get ahead of state lawmakers — HB 616 has yet to be heard in committee nearly a month after introduction — but he cautioned that passing this type of legislation could hurt Ohio commerce.
“As an Ohioan, I certainly hope that the House does not continue to move down this path,” Graves said, “because I think that it sends the wrong signal to communities. It sends the wrong signal to business.”
Eight of the Columbus region’s 25 largest companies condemned the bill in statements to NBC4 earlier this month. They include seven of the top 10 full-time employers, such as Honda, Cardinal Health and American Electric Power.
Intel, despite being nationally recognized for its diversity initiatives, declined to comment for that story. The tech giant announced this year it’s building a $20 billion computer chip factory in Licking County that will employ 3,000 full-time people by 2025.
Introduced April 4 by state Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) and Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta), HB 616 prohibits schools from “teaching or providing training that promotes or endorses divisive or inherently racist concepts.”
That includes critical race theory and The New York Times‘ 1619 Project on slavery and Black Americans’ contributions to U.S. history. The bill also limits discussion and instruction that include topics of sexuality and gender identity.
Supporters say the measure would give parents more control over what their children learn about, but opponents worry it will marginalize LGBTQ+ students and students of color, and, like Graves, say it would make Ohio less welcoming to business and talent.
Schmidt and Loychik did not return emails and voicemails to their offices seeking comment.
Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Stivers said in a statement after HB 616 was introduced that “some of the language in this bill may impede Ohio’s ability” to keep and attract workers who want to put down roots.
Stivers added, though, “we trust that through the legislative process everyone will get a chance to have their voice heard.”