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Potential Lebanon diversity panel could be at odds with NH’s ‘divisive concepts’ law

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2021 9:24:48 PM
Modified: 7/20/2021 9:24:53 PM

LEBANON — City councilors are expected to hold a public hearing and vote Wednesday evening to create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission, though a legal opinion does raise some caveats for city officials to consider.

The commission is intended to provide education and opportunities for conversations and to “bring the community together and bridge the divide to the extent it exists regarding diversity, equity and inclusion,” according to a memo to councilors from the city manager, who recommends passage of the measure, which requires amending city code.

The Lebanon commission, which could function in a manner similar to the Hartford Committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion, would have to contend, however, with the new so-called “divisive concepts” provision in the New Hampshire budget that was just enacted and which opponents say could prohibit any governmental entity in the state from instructing, advocating or discussing such issues as structural racism and implicit bias.

Christine Fillmore, an attorney for Lebanon, said in a July 12 memo that the city should not be deterred from creating the commission, but should be aware of “potential consequences.”

“The proposed ordinance to create the new commission does not specifically include a charge for the commission to engage in efforts that would include the ideas of inherent bias and systemic injustice. It is, however, quite possible that these concepts would be part of some of the programs, initiatives, recommendations and/or advice that the commission would undertake,” Fillmore, who is with the Manchester-based firm Drummond Woodsum, said in the memo.

Such activities could potentially “be construed as violating the new law,” leading to potential fines of up to $50,000 from the New Hampshire Commission on Human Rights, plus sanctions in other New Hampshire venues, her memo said.

“We believe there is a reasonable argument to be made that the prohibitions in the new law may violate the N.H. and U.S. Constitutions, but I cannot guarantee any particular result in such litigation,” she wrote.

The City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers in City Hall and can also be viewed at lebanonnh.gov/live.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.




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