A House vote Monday night sends to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that has inspired a controversy the governor says he knows little about.
The legislation (HB368) sets guidelines for classroom discussion of evolution and other scientific theories and declares that teachers cannot be disciplined for permitting such discussions.
Sponsors say it will encourages development of “critical thinking skills” by students. Critics say it encourages discussions of creationism as an alternative to evolution.
Haslam was asked his views on the bill last week after announcing plans to use federal funds to build three new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools in the state.
“I don’t know that I have any great insight there for you on that one,” Haslam said, adding that he had heard of the bill but knew little about what was involved. The governor said he plans to ask state Board of Education officials about it.
“I think it is a fair question as to what the General Assembly’s role is, I think that’s why we have a State Board of Education,” he said. “I think the General Assembly, though, does represent people and their votes and thoughts matter there.”
Final approval came when the House voted 72-23 to concur in a Senate amendment to the bill, Sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, simply said the amendment clarifies that the science discussions must occur “within the framework of the curriculum” established by the Board of Education.
The House originally passed the bill last year after heated discussion. The Senate passed the amended version last week, 25-8, and sent the bill back to the House. All no votes came from Democrats..
The Senate amendment also deleted a reference to scientific theories as subject to “controversy” and instead uses the words “debate and disputation.” Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, the Senate sponsor, said the amendment was intended to defuse criticism of the bill, which he said had been “mischaracterized” as promoting creationism by opponents.
The amendment did nothing to end opposition to the measure from groups including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, and the National Earth Science Teachers Association.