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By Barbara Forrest

The Louisiana Coalition for Science (LCFS) is pleased to announce the demise of HB 580, which is official with the adjournment of the Louisiana legislature today, June 23, 2011, at 6:00 p.m. This legislation was, by every indication, nothing more than an attempt to reverse the Louisiana Family Forum’s defeat in its effort to block the approval of new biology textbooks for Louisiana public schools in fall 2010. However, even though HB 580 was another stealth creationism bill, no subject of instruction in public schools would have been safe from its effects.

HB 580, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hoffmann (West Monroe) was moving along under the radar, eclipsed by the publicity surrounding the effort to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), until Dr. Ian Binns, our LCFS colleague, alerted us to it. If the bill had passed, the purview of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) would have been diluted from being able to “prescribe and adopt” a list of state-approved textbooks to being able merely to “recommend” them. Local school boards would have been given carte blanche to purchase textbooks and other materials that were not even on the list of “recommended” textbooks, and they could have used an unlimited amount of taxpayer dollars to buy them. Moreover, the professional staff of the Department of Education (DoE) would have been written out of their role under current law as participants in the process of reviewing textbooks, overseeing textbook adoption committees, etc. (See the LCFS press release [pdf] and analysis of HB 580 [pdf].)

That prospect has fortunately been averted — for now.

LCFS would like to thank the people who played a role in this outcome. Our greatest gratitude must go to Senator Karen Carter Peterson (New Orleans) and her staff. Working with Zack Kopplin, she sponsored the unsuccessful SB 70, which would have repealed the creationist Louisiana Science Education Act. But she then went above and beyond the call of duty by spearheading the opposition to HB 580 — marshaling “nay” votes from other senators through not one but two Senate votes. So, Senator Peterson, please accept our most sincere thanks. You were wonderful.

The other senators who joined Senator Peterson in voting to protect public school science education by opposing HB 580 also deserve our thanks (in alphabetical order):

In addition, LCFS owes much to one of our own members, Dr. Ian Binns, who not only alerted us to the HB 580 but testified against it — twice — on behalf of LCFS before both the House and Senate Education Committees. Dr. Binns has offered a statement about the successful defeat of the bill:

This is a great moment for science education and education in general for the state of Louisiana. Rep. Hoffmann’s bill would have been another step in the wrong direction for science education in Louisiana. I am thankful for the work of Senator Peterson and the other senators who were brave enough to stand up to Rep. Hoffmann and the Louisiana Family Forum. These senators did the right thing in protecting science education. I hope that this is also the beginning of the end for the Louisiana Science Education Act. I am happy to have played a part in the defeat of HB 580.

We also thank Zack Kopplin — yet again — for being at the Capitol and helping Sen. Peterson and her staff. After doing yeoman’s work, working with Sen. Peterson, to repeal the LSEA, Zack also stepped up to the plate to help defeat HB 580. We offer a statement from Zack as well:

Special thanks to all the legislators who prevented this bill from passing not once, but twice. This has been a good year for our state. We’ve gotten new biology books approved, despite creationists attempts to block them. We’ve stopped an attempt to pass another stealth creationism law. Lastly, we made substantial progress in our attempt to repeal Louisiana’s ‘job-killing’ creationism law and we’ll come back with an even stronger repeal next session.

Last, we thank the local media for paying attention to this bill and informing the public. The Baton Rouge Advocate provided thorough coverage and a powerful editorial in opposition to HB 580. James Gill at the Times-Picayune outdid himself yet again, awarding the legislature an “F in science.” The Daily Comet and Houma Today ran articles, as did Gambit. Walter Pierce at the Independent Weekly in Lafayette also provided coverage, helpfully getting the word out by linking to the LCFS analysis of the bill.

We conclude by pointing out that the Louisiana Coalition for Science has gone 2 for 3 against the LFF’s creationist agenda in the last 6 months. Although we failed to repeal the LSEA (don’t worry — Zack vows to try again next year), we successfully persuaded BESE to do the right thing and approve new biology textbooks for our public school students. And now we have prevented Hoffmann’s and the LFF’s end run around that decision. And we did it without paid lobbyists and deep-pocketed donors.

Just knowing that we helped to protect the education of Louisiana children is reward enough for us.

 

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