Senator will reintroduce bill to create Department of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

By: - January 14, 2022 6:54 am

Sen. Troy Singleton (Courtesy of New Jersey Senate Democrats)

A New Jersey state senator wants to combine the state’s efforts to increase diversity across state agencies and businesses into a single department.

Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) intends to reintroduce a measure to create a Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that was introduced — but not advanced — in the final days of the last legislative session.

“If we are to focus and make sure that our workforce is truly as diverse as our entire state, we need to be intentional about it,” he said. “Aspirational goals are good, but we really need to put intent behind it by creating a department solely focused on making sure that diversity is more than a soundbite but something that we actually embody.”

His bill would require the department to coordinate with the Division of Investment to increase the state’s utilization of financial firms headed by underrepresented people, with similar mandates on purchasing, loan allocation, and homeowner relief.

Existing state services for minority- and women-owned businesses administered by the Treasury’s Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services would also be transferred to the new department, which would also take over the maintenance of a database of businesses eligible for contracts under any of New Jersey’s set-aside programs.

Its mandate would stretch further to include advancing diverse hiring practices; requiring state departments, divisions, independent authorities, and other agencies to measure workforce diversity; and creating new positions to promote inclusive hiring.

The bill would levy a similar mandate on businesses that receive loans or grants — and potentially tax incentives — worth $100,000 or more, requiring those businesses to draft an inclusive hiring plan that includes diversity goals for senior positions, among other things, or risk their awards being frozen.

The department would also seek to increase the prevalence of paid internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships while de-emphasizing unpaid positions. It would be led by a cabinet-level official nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment on the bill but noted Murphy in September issued an executive order creating the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

The office, headed by former New Jersey Institute for Social Justice senior counsel Jayné Johnson, is similarly focused on reducing discrimination and increasing diversity across state government and at businesses that interact with state agencies.

Singleton sees the office as a sign the administration would be receptive to his bill.

“I know what the governor’s mindset is in that particular space,” he said. “I don’t think it should be a large ideological leap to make it a department because they already have an office focused on it.”

Among the bill’s more seismic changes would be the absorption of the Division on Civil Rights, which currently exists under the oversight of the Office of the Attorney General. That transfer would give the newly created department broad oversight over cases involving discrimination based on an individual’s protected class, like sexual orientation, race, or gender identity, among numerous others.

Singleton said that move was “not a knock to the work that’s being done where the Division of Civil Rights is in the Attorney General’s Office,” adding there would be a “more intense focus” in a new department.

The bill, introduced a week before the start of the new legislative session, came to the Legislature too late to advance before the last session ended. It had the support of the previous senate president, Steve Sweeney.

Singleton said he has not discussed the measure with Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), though he said he anticipated “we’ll have a lot of people who want to join us in this effort.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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