Archive for the '“Academic Freedom” bills ’08' Category

Oh yeah, let’s not forget those “academic freedom” bills

Friday, November 7th, 2008

In a recent St. Petersburg Times Gradebook blog post about the new problems with the state science standards, Christian activist Terry Kemple threw in a little bonus:

By coincidence, Kemple said he met with area pastors this week to talk about upcoming issues, now that the fight over Amendment 2 is over. High on their to-do list: Another stab at the “academic freedom” bills that barely failed in the Legislature last year.

More articles trickle in

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

The evolution bills that derailed in the Florida legislature recently are still drawing some attention. This column does a good job of addressing many of the anti-evolution arguments we heard during the legislative session.

I don’t think there’s any point to passing laws that give teachers permission to do the impossible.

Several recent letters to the Daily News assert that Florida’s “Evolution Academic Freedom Act” is good because it allows teachers to “objectively present scientific information” against evolution. This makes as much sense as saying teachers should be allowed to present geographic proof the world is flat or scientific proof the Earth doesn’t move around the sun — they can’t present something that doesn’t exist.

The Florida Baptist Witness takes a look at the good and bad of the legislative session from their perspective. Of special note is:

It must be conceded the academic freedom issue got a late start due to the timing of the State Board of Education action on the new science standards in February, shortly before the beginning of the legislative session. Starting a major piece of legislation only two weeks before the session began made passage difficult.

What does that tell you about the next session? It tells you that next year the bills’ supporters will be more organized well in advance. Our best weapon against this? Education. With the legislative session over, now is the time to make appointments with all the lawmakers who represent you. Waiting until the first day of the next session is not a good idea. The time for education is now. No rest for the weary!

Complaining about politics

Monday, May 5th, 2008

There are several newspaper articles and opinion columns popping up over the past several days complaining about this past legislative session. It’s nice to see that the majority of them that I’ve seen have been lumping the evolution bills in with the Truck Nutz and I Believe license plate bad idea garbage. Not everyone feels that way, though.

[James A.] Smith, [the executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness] said that moderate Republicans — dubbed RINOs, for “Republican in Name Only” — who voted against the abortion and evolution bills would have to be defeated by social conservatives to win future legislative battles.

“Until one of these RINO Republicans gets taken out, there’s not going to be much reason from them to believe there’s any accountability to be feared for voting against religious conservatives,” Smith said. “Whether or not religious conservatives are not as influential as they were once believed to be kind of remains to be seen.”


Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Let us take a moment of silence for House Bill 1483 and Senate Bill 2692, the deceptively named “academic freedom” bills.

Time of death: 6 p.m.

I doubt they will rest in peace, though.

Tracking the bills

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

This is a summary/tracking post that was updated throughout the Florida legislative session concerning two anti-evolution bills that were introduced in the Senate and House. Fortunately, the bills never made it into law in 2008.


SB 2692 Teaching Chemical and Biological Evolution; Cites act as the “Academic Freedom Act.”
— Filed 2/29/08 by Senator Ronda Storms.
— Introduced 03/20/08, referred to Education Pre-K – 12 committee and Judiciary committee.
— Scheduled on Committee agenda Education Pre-K – 12 for 03/26/08, 1:00 p.m.
Bill analysis and committee amendment, essentially an edited version of the bill, are created on 3/25/08.
Bill approved 3/26/08 by a 4-1 vote in the Education Pre-K – 12 committee meeting. Sens. Lisa Carlton, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Steve Wise, and Larcenia Bullard voted for it. Committee Chairman Don Gaetz and Vice Chairwoman Frederica Wilson were absent. Sen. Ted Deutch was the lone dissent.
— Scheduled on Committee agenda Judiciary for 04/08/08, 10:45 a.m.
Bill approved 4/8/08 by a 7-3 party line vote in the Judiciary committee meeting. Sens. Baker, Diaz de la Portilla, Fasano, Gaetz, Saunders, Webster, Villalobos voted for it. Sens. Ring, Geller, Deutch voted against it.
— Given second reading 4/17/08. Amendment proposed to meld “academic freedom” for both evolution and sex education. Amendment failed. During debate, Sen. Storms was questioned about intelligent design but steadfastly refuses to give a straight answer.
— Sen. Storms proposes amendment to her bill 4/22/08, which completely changes it to mirror the single line version REp. Hays is pushing through the House.
— Storms’ bill passes the full Senate on a vote of 21-17 on 4/23/08. However, her amendment from the day before failed. The bill was then sent to the House for its consideration.
— The House had a completely different version of the bill. Since the Senate had already rejected the House’s language when Storms proposed it as an amendment to her bill, she knew it would be a waste of time present the House’s final, approved version to her fellow senators. So, she shipped her Senate bill back to the house and asked that body to have another look at it and approve it. However, the final day of the session arrived (5/2/08) and the House leadership simply refused to even bring the bill to the floor. As a result, both the House and Senate bills died. Final result: no deceptively named “evolution academic freedom” law in Florida.

SB 2692 has two co-sponsors, Senator Stephen R. Wise and Senator Carey Baker.


HB 1483 Teaching Chemical and Biological Evolution: Cites act as “Academic Freedom Act.”
— Filed 3/4/08 by Rep. D. Alan Hays.
— Bill had its first reading 3/4/08.
— Rep. Hays invites fellow lawmakers to screening of movie Expelled.
— Referred to the Schools & Learning Council, Friday, 3/7/08. House Schools & Learning Council page here.
— Scheduled on committee agenda Schools and Learning for 04/11/08, 9:30 a.m.
Bill approved 4/11/08 by a 7-4 party line vote in the Schools and Learning committee meeting. Reps. Altman, Legg, McKeel, Pickens, Coley, McBurney, Flores voted for it. Reps. Bendross-Mindingall, Long, Kiar, Vana voted against it. Bill was amended to make it just one line emphasizing “critical analysis” of evolution. House version is now significantly different from Senate version.
Bill is scheduled for second reading to happen 4/25/08. At this time amendments are considered and debate happens, but there is no vote yet. The voting doesn’t happen until a third reading at a later date, which is not yet scheduled. Two amendments were filed on 4/24/08 by Rep. Martin David Kiar, who was opposed to the bill when it was before the Schools and Learning committee.
— The Senate bill was approved and sent to the House. The Senate and House bills are vastly different. Rep. Hays has filed an amendment to the Senate bill for the House’s consideration. This amendment would completely change it to conform to the House version. However, Sen. Storms had already tried that same tactic in the Senate before its final vote, but the amendment failed.
— Debate lasted an hour and a half in the House during the second reading on 04/25/08. The House bill was officially dropped in favor of the Senate bill. But the Senate bill text was then completely stripped and replaced with the House bill text. Essentially, the House bill is still there, just under a different bill number. Democrats were successful in adding the word “scientific” to Hays’ bill.
— Bill voted on by the full House 04/28/08 and passed 71-43.
The Senate had a completely different version of the bill. Since the Senate had already rejected the House’s language when Storms proposed it as an amendment to her bill, she knew it would be a waste of time present the House’s final, approved version to her fellow senators. So, she shipped her Senate bill back to the house and asked that body to have another look at it and approve it. However, the final day of the session arrived (5/2/08) and the House leadership simply refused to even bring the bill to the floor. As a result, both the House and Senate bills died. Final result: no deceptively named “evolution academic freedom” law in Florida.

HB 1483 has eight co-sponsors, Rep. Frank Attkisson, Rep. Marti Coley, Rep. Greg Evers, Rep. Kurt Kelly, Rep. Clay Ford, Rep. Dave Murzin, Rep. Anthony Traviesa, and Rep. Trudi Williams.

Last day

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

The last day of the legislative session is here. Will the deceptively named “academic freedom” bills experience a miracle and gain passage? Or will they fizzle and die? Keep an eye on the Senate bill page throughout the day.

While you’re waiting for the end result, read this article in the Wall Street Journal about this latest evolution in the anti-evolution movement that we are experiencing up close and personal here in Florida.

A handful of states have considered such bills in recent years, but backers are now organizing a national movement, with high-profile help from actor Ben Stein. His new documentary, “Expelled,” argues that educators suffer reprisals if they dare question evolution; in an attempt to spur action, he has held private screenings for legislators, including a recent showing in the Missouri statehouse.

The common goal: To expose more students to articles and videos that undercut evolution. Most of this material is produced by advocates of intelligent design or Biblical creationism, the belief that God created man in his present form.

Both houses of the Florida legislature passed academic freedom bills this month, but it is unclear whether backers can reconcile the two versions before the spring session closes Friday. If not, they will have to try again next year. Prospects may be better in Louisiana, where the state Senate this week unanimously approved a bill ensuring that teachers can go beyond the biology textbook to raise criticisms of evolution. Similar bills have just been introduced in Alabama and Michigan and this week passed through a house committee in Missouri.

The bills typically restrict lessons to “scientific” criticism of evolution, or require that critiques be presented “in an objective manner,” or approved by a local school board.

Evolution’s defenders respond that there are no credible scientific critiques of evolution, any more than there are credible alternatives to the theory of gravity. The fossil record, DNA analysis and observations of natural selection confirm Darwin’s hypothesis that all life on Earth evolved from a common ancestor over four billion years.

In the scientific community, while there may be debate about the details, the grand sweep of evolution is unassailable. “There’s no controversy,” said Jay Labov, a senior adviser for education and communication with the National Academy of Sciences.

Doug Cowan, a public-school biology teacher, said his colleagues are often afraid to speak out.

Mr. Cowan said he tells students: “I’m going to give you the evidence for evolution and the evidence against, and let you decide.” For instance, he’ll mention Darwin’s observation that finches evolve different-shaped beaks to suit different ecosystems. Then he’ll add that you don’t see a finch changing into another species.

Asked what evidence he presents to bolster evolution, Mr. Cowan paused. “I don’t have any,” he said.

Mr. Cowan’s principal said that teachers are not supposed to veer from the approved textbooks. That’s why Mr. Cowan would like a legal guarantee he can teach as he sees fit.

“This is America,” Mr. Cowan said. “My gosh. Why walk on eggshells?”

Ball in the House’s court now

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Recap: The House and Senate have different versions of the deceptively named “academic freedom” bills. The Senate approved their version and shipped it to the House. The House gutted the Senate version and replaced it with their own entirely different version. They then shipped it back to the Senate. The Senate is now saying they don’t like it and so they shipped their orginial version back to the House:

05/01/08 SENATE Refused to concur, requested House to recede
05/01/08 HOUSE  In returning messages

The returning message says:

II. Summary of Amendments Contained in Message:
House Amendment 1 – 432103 is a delete-everything amendment that differs from CS/SB 2692
in the following ways:

• The Senate bill provided a protected right for teachers to objectively present scientific information relating to scientific views of the teaching of evolution. These provisions are eliminated from the bill. Instead, the House amendment requires teachers to provide a thorough presentation and scientific critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution.
• A similar provision was defeated on 3rd Reading in the Senate.

Now we wait and see if the House will accept the Senate version here at the last minute. The Gradebook blog notes:

Majority Whip Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, has said there is little “appetite” in the House for Storms’ proposal. And session ends tomorrow, meaning it’s slim odds this legislation will pass this year.

Two days

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Two days left in the legislative session. The deceptively named “academic freedom” bills haven’t budged. Fortunately, time is running out.

Florida Times Union: Schools evolution proposal could die

The House passed that bill after significant debate Monday, but Storms said she can’t understand why it was changed.

“I have no idea,” she said, comparing the situation to having two cars traveling together as a caravan. “Suddenly the car behind us veered off the road and into the bushes.”

She said the Senate won’t pass that bill.

Others questioned whether the House effort was sabotaged.

“I’d say someone in the House, in the name of trying to push this bill, is actually trying to kill it,” said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that developed a model evolution-debate law that was the basis for Florida’s legislation.

“If nothing passes, I think there will be a lot of explaining to do,” he said.