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Antievolution bill in New Mexico tabled

House Bill 302 was tabled by the Education Committee of the New Mexico House of Representatives on a 5-4 vote on February 18, 2011, suggesting that it is unlikely to come to a floor vote before the legislature adjourns on March 19, 2011. A version of the currently popular "academic freedom" antievolution strategy, HB 302, if enacted, would require teachers to be allowed to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" pertaining to "controversial" scientific topics and would protect teachers from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so."

Before the vote, the sponsor of the bill, Thomas A. Anderson (R-District 29), rejected a characterization of HB 302 as an "evolution bill," telling The New Mexican (February 8, 2011), "I'm just trying to protect teachers." Dave Thomas of New Mexicans for Science and Reason countered, "This is really just a ploy to get creationism in the classroom," to which NCSE's Steven Newton added, "Allowing creationist teachers to attack evolution is an injustice to the education of their students, who will live and work in a world increasingly dependent on understanding science and technology."

Thomas and Newton also charged that HB 302 was based on model legislation from the de facto institutional headquarters of "intelligent design" creationism, the Discovery Institute. Anderson replied that the bill was his own — but a detailed comparison provided by NMSR reveals the similarity of HB 302 to the Discovery Institute's model bill as well as to a draft bill promoted by a local creationist organization, Intelligent Design Network New Mexico. Subsequently, IDnet-NM also paid for a full-page advertisement in the Albuquerque Journal supporting HB 302, as the Journal observed (February 16, 2011).

Members of NCSE, NMSR, the New Mexico Academy of Sciences, and the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education were on hand at the committee meeting to express their concern about the bill. Also, a legislative analysis reported (PDF) that the state Attorney General's office described HB 302 as "vulnerable to legal challenge on grounds that its definitions and application are unconstitutionally vague" and the Administrative Office of the Courts warned, "If enacted, HB 302 may result in litigation if the law is interpreted to provide teachers with the latitude to advance certain concepts, such as creationism or intelligent design, as science."