The Louisiana State Senate Education Committee passed an altered version of the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act” (SB 561) on 17 April 2008. The original measure, sponsored by state Senator Ben Nevers (D-District 12), was considered by education experts to be “stealth” creationism legislation. Science education advocates noted that SB 561 was intended to create questions that do not exist around evolution and climate change. The legislation’s language, as introduced, was rooted in the policy passed by the Ouachita Parish School Board in 2006 that protects teachers who want to “teach the controversy” about evolution.
Many witnesses appeared before the Education Committee, including bill opponent and LSU scientist William Hansel. As reported in the 18 April Baton Rouge Advocate, Hansel told the committee, “Time spent studying creationism will be at the expense of time spent on teaching language skills and basic science.” He said passage of the legislation “will be seized upon as one more piece of evidence that Louisiana is a backward state by those who have popularized this image of our state.”
Prior to unanimously passing the measure, the Committee renumbered (SB 733), renamed (“Louisiana Science Education Act”), and “sanitized” the bill by removing “strengths and weaknesses” language and the list of specific scientific topics. The bill awaits action in the full Senate while critics remain concerned given the bill’s creationist antecedents.
In the House of Representatives, HB 1168, also named the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act,” was introduced on 21 April 2008. Considered a counterpart to the original SB 561, HB 1168 was sponsored by Frank A. Hoffman (R-District 15), former superintendent of the Ouachita Parish School System.
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