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New Hampshire antievolution bills dismissed

"The House Education Committee dismissed two bills this morning that would have dictated classroom lectures on evolution," the Concord Monitor's State House blog reported (February 16, 2012). The bills in question are House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), which would have charged the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism," and House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), which would have charged the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes." Although HB 1457 as drafted was silent about "intelligent design," Hopper's initial request was to have a bill drafted that would require "instruction in intelligent design in the public schools."

The House Education Committee heard testimony on HB 1457 on February 9, 2012. According to the Nashua Telegraph (February 10, 2012), the committee heard about ninety minutes of testimony, "including opposition from the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association and the New Hampshire School Board Association, who said state science standards already require students to learn that questioning established theories is part of the scientific method." Hopper, the sponsor of the bill, "made it clear that his concern involves teaching alternatives to evolution," and a representative of the Discovery Institute was quoted as saying, "There are non-creationist, skeptical alternatives to Darwinist theory that teachers could bring into their classroom," even while expressing a lack of support for the bill. John Godfrey of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association, testifying against the bill, was quoted by the Concord Monitor (February 10, 2012) as saying, "There's lots of things in science we really know and we can teach the kids, here's what scientists have figured out, and we pretty much agree. Don't deprive them of that and say, 'Maybe yes, and maybe no. Go figure it out for yourself.' "

The House Education Committee heard testimony on HB 1148 on February 14, 2012. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader (February 15, 2012), "No one testified in support of Bergevin's bill, however, it did face several opponents, including representatives from the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association and the N.H. School Administrators Association — as well as Jackson Hinkle, a 10-year-old student from Nashua." The youngster told the committee that enacting the bill "would be a blow to our educational system, which is already in a bad state," adding, "If evolution was not presented in the scientific sense, but rather the colloquial, people would be denied modern scientific information." John Godfrey of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association emphasized that, contrary to the apparent presumption of the bill, a theory is not just a guess or a hunch. "Evolution," he explained, "is at the extremely well-established end of the spectrum of scientific theories." The Union Leader reported, "Members of the committee asked no questions and made almost no comments during the hearing, except to praise the students for participating."

Despite the House Education Committee's votes, New Hampshire's antievolution bills are not officially dead yet, however. A subsequent story in the Concord Monitor (February 17, 2012) reports, "The bills are due for a vote at Wednesday's session of the full House." Apparently, in New Hampshire, a committee's vote is in effect only a recommendation. According to a primer on legislative process posted on the state legislature's website, after a committee votes on a bill, "The bill is then placed on the House/Senate Calendar for a 'floor vote', where a Committee member presents the Committee's decision. Floor debate may follow, with legislators who oppose the Committee's decision speaking alternately with legislators who support the Committee. It is rare for the full Senate or House to overturn a Committee's decision. After debate, the full body votes on the Committee's decision." New Hampshire's HB 1457 and HB 1148 are two of the seven antievolution bills of 2012 so far, along with Alabama's HB 133, Indiana's SB 89 (now shelved), Missouri's HB 1227 and HB 1276, and Oklahoma's SB 1742.

Updated on February 16, 2012, by the addition of the fourth paragraph.