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AIBS Public Policy Report for 31 January 2005

  • In the states: Evolution education related legislation surfaces across the country
  • Former EPA Administrator sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Senate confirms new Secretary of Agriculture
  • Graduate Students: Apply for the 2005 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award

The AIBS Public Policy Report is distributed broadly by email every two weeks to AIBS membership leaders and contacts, including the President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Director, AIBS Council Representative, Journal Editor, Newsletter Editor, Public Policy Committee Chair, Public Policy Representative, and Education Committee Chair of all AIBS member societies and organizations (see the Membership Directories for contact information).

All material from these reports may be reproduced or forwarded. Please mention AIBS as the source; office staff appreciate receiving copies of materials used. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact the AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Robert Gropp [publ...@aibs.org; 202-628-1500 x250].


In the states: Evolution education related legislation surfaces across the country

In January, members of state legislatures returned to their capitols and began introducing legislation that reflects their policy priorities. Not surprisingly given the increased public profile of evolution education, legislators in many states have introduced measures that would require disclaimers be placed in textbooks, require that intelligent design/creationism be taught along side evolution, or requiring that science teachers 'teach the controversy.' Before providing an update on some of the anti-evolution legislation, it is interesting to note that a Montana State Senator from Helena introduced a resolution that, if passed, would communicate to local school districts that there is a separation of church and state clause in the Constitution and that school districts should teach students only sound science. Not to be outdone, a newly elected member of the Montana House, State Representative Roger Koopman (R-Bozeman), announced his intent to introduce legislation (LC 1199) that would allow schools to teach intelligent design/creationism.

Back in Georgia, where a federal judge recently ruled that Cobb County's textbook disclaimers are unconstitutional, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives introduced House Bill 179. This legislation would require that "Whenever any theory of the origin of human beings or other living things is included in a course of study," evidence against evolution would also be included. When the Speaker of the Republican-controlled state House was asked about the measure, he simply noted that any member of the caucus can introduce any legislation they like. Georgia Citizens for Science Education and other organizations that support a strong K-12 science curriculum are not taking the measure lightly. Staying in the south, legislation introduced in the Mississippi State Senate (SB 2286) would require that classic creationism be taught in schools where evolution is taught. The South Carolina Senate will again be able to consider legislation (S 114) designed to provide anti-evolutionists with control over how textbooks dealing with evolution are approved and adopted by school districts. A similar measure was introduced in the last session.

Policy threats to a sound science education are not limited to southern states. As has been previously reported, Grantsburg, Wisconsin spent most of 2004 flirting with ways to introduce intelligent design/creationism into the science curriculum. Following a prolonged process in which local parents, educators, and university faculty and members of the clergy from across the state expressed strong opposition to the district's plans, in December 2004 the board adopted a resolution stating: "Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design." While the policy is an improvement over earlier iterations, science education advocates remain concerned that evolution is the only area of science listed in the statement. Local evolution education supporters have pledged to remain vigilant.

The challenges in Dover, Pennsylvania are far from over. Following the school board's decision to approve the teaching of intelligent design/creationism, local parents in conjunction with national organizations filed a lawsuit against the school district. Meanwhile, the school district prepared a four-paragraph long disclaimer statement that high school biology teachers were to read to their classes prior to beginning a unit on evolution. In short, citing their obligation under the state's Code of Professional Conduct and their professional and "solemn responsibility to teach the truth" the district's biology teachers sent a letter to their administrators refusing to read the disclaimer statement. The statement was, however, read before each class by a school administrator.

Former EPA Administrator sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services

On January 26, 2005 Mike Leavitt was sworn in as Secretary of the federal government's largest department, Health and Human Services. Though Leavitt was most recently administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, as a former governor of Utah he has prior experience with health policy. Secretary Leavitt was Utah's governor from 1992-2003. In 1994, Secretary Leavitt authored "Healthprint," Utah's reform of Medicaid. This legislation increased health care coverage for Utah's children. Then considered a leader in state Medicaid reform, Gov. Leavitt was elected by fellow governors to represent states through the National Governors' Association in negotiations with Congress on welfare, Medicaid and children's health insurance reform.

After Secretary Leavitt's confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), he was given nothing but glowing praise from the bi-partisan panel of Senators. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the ranking member on the HELP committee, said he looks forwards to working with Secretary Leavitt on America's social welfare issues.

As Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mr. Leavitt has a full agenda. The Department of Health and Human Services, with a fiscal year 2005 budget of $580 billion, is responsible for Medicare, Medicaid, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Health, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, among other programs. Of interest to scientists and publishers of scientific journals, Secretary Levitt will also oversee whether, when, and how the National Institutes of Health may implement a controversial "open access publishing" policy. Release of the policy, strongly criticized by most non-profit scientific journal publishers, was expected in early January, however, the release was delayed to avoid a controversy that could have impeded Mr. Levitt's Senate confirmation. Other challenges and priorities awaiting the Secretary are implementation of a prescription drug benefit program for seniors, known as the "Medicare Prescription Drug Program of 2006," welfare reform, medical liability reform, funding for "faith-based" organizations providing essential services, and congressional reauthorization of medical research programs.

Senate confirms new Secretary of Agriculture

The day after President Bush began his second term, former Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns (R) was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture. The Senate unanimously approved Johanns for the post hours after President Bush took the oath of office. Secretary Johanns was one of several cabinet secretary designees that the White House and Senate viewed as uncontroversial. The quick action by the Senate was meant to demonstrate the Senate's willingness to work with the President.

Secretary Johanns received bipartisan support throughout the confirmation process. According to some sources, the nomination and confirmation reflects an agreed upon national priority to expand farm trade over the next four years. In announcing his choice, President Bush highlighted Mr. Johanns' experience in expanding trade with foreign markets as a primary reason for his selection. Many in the Senate have also expressed concern about the recent ban on U.S. beef in foreign countries and were quick to question Johanns on the issue during his confirmation hearing. As the former governor of Nebraska, Johanns has six-years experience dealing with agriculture issues at the state level. He is also quick to point out that he grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa and has therefore been involved with farming issues since he was a child. As governor, Secretary Johanns led state agricultural leaders on trade missions to ten foreign countries, supported efforts to expand bioenergy, and worked on drought relief programs. Another priority will be reauthorization of the Farm Bill. He is expected to have similar priorities as Secretary of Agriculture.

The Agriculture Department is the government's sixth largest division, with over 100,000 employees and an annual budget of $113 billion. It promotes agricultural production and trade, runs the food stamp and school lunch programs, maintains our national forests and conducts national food safety inspections. A portion of the Department of Agriculture's budget is also devoted to research, supporting grants through Cooperative State Research and Education Extension Service, National Research Initiative and Agricultural Research Service.

Graduate Students: Apply for the 2005 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award

As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award, an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS will pay travel costs and expenses for 1 recipient of the award to participate in the Science, Engineering and Technology Working Group's annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on May 10-11, 2005. The CVD is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for scientific research funding. CVD is hosted by more than 30 organizations spanning all scientific disciplines. During the CVD, participants will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a reception honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of science and biology; they will also participate in meetings with members of Congress and their staff.

AIBS is accepting applications for the Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to Kirsten Feifel (kfeifel@aibs.org) NO LATER than 5 p.m. EST on Friday, 1 April 2005. The award will be announced by 15 April.

Applications should include the following materials:

  1. Cover letter.
    Applicants should describe their interest in science policy issues and how participation in the CVD would further their career goals. Applicants should also confirm their availability to attend the May 10-11 event.

  2. Statement on the importance of biological research (max. 500 words).
    The objective of CVD is "to underscore the long-term importance of science, engineering, and technology to the Nation through meetings with congressional decision makers." How would you convince your congressional delegation of the importance of biological research? Prepare a statement that emphasizes the benefits of biological research, drawing on your own experience and/or research area, and referencing local issues that may be of interest to your congressional delegation as appropriate. You may want to address why Congress should increase funding for research when overall funding for federal programs is declining.

  3. Resume (1 page).
    Your resume should emphasize leadership and communication experience - this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. Please include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, and memberships. Please do not list conference presentations, abstracts or scientific manuscripts.

  4. Letter of reference. Ask an individual who can attest to your leadership and interpersonal and communication skills to send a letter on your behalf to kfeifel@aibs.org by the stated deadline. This individual should also be familiar with your interest in or experience with science or education policy issues.

Questions about the award should be addressed to AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Adrienne Sponberg at asponberg@aibs.org or by phone at (202)-628-1500 x232.

To learn about previous EPPLA recipients and other AIBS public policy training initiatives, please visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressional_fellows.html.

 


The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association headquartered in Washington DC, with a staff of approximately 30. It was founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences and has been an independent organization since the mid-1950s, governed by a Board of Directors elected by its membership. The AIBS membership consists of approximately 6,000 biologists and 80 professional societies and other organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 240,000 biologists. AIBS is an umbrella organization for the biological sciences dedicated to promoting an understanding of the natural living world, including the human species and its welfare, by engaging in coalition activities with its members in research, education, public policy, and public outreach; publishing the peer-reviewed journal, BioScience; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening scientific meetings; and performing administrative and other support services for its member organizations.


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