(from OESE listserv, April, 2, 2012) The Oklahoma Senate Education Committee in the last meeting of this session on Monday, 2 April 2012, did not consider the creationist HB 1551 and it is gone for this year! (A very similar ‘academic freedom act’ SB 1742 (Sen. Brecheen) was not heard earlier by a Senate committee). HB 1551 was not placed on the agenda for a hearing. This bill was not heard by the House last year, after passing the House Common Education Committee. It came up again this year and passed the House Committee on a 9-7 vote and was rapidly placed on the House floor for a vote. The name of the original principal author, Sally Kern, was removed and replaced by Rep. Blackwell with Representatives Kern and Bennett listed as co-authors. An attempt to gut the bill by Rep. Williams was tabled. The bill then passed overwhelmingly in a late vote (the session lasted to 9:20 P.M.), 56 to 12, with 31 excused. The emergency clause failed 45 to 14.
The large vote for the bill encouraged proponents for the bill and most, especially the creationist crowd, expected that the bill would then pass in the Senate. However, a major response against the bill, coordinated mostly by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), was launched. National organizations that promptly weighed in to help included American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute of Biological Sciences, National Center for Science Education, National Earth Science Teachers Association, and the National Association of Biology Teachers. These groups not only sent a message to each member of the Senate Committee, but asked their members in Oklahoma to send individual messages. Similarly, state organizations that sent messages and asked members to respond included Oklahoma Academy of Science, Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, OESE, OKC and Tulsa Interfaith Alliances, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and others including special interest groups on Yahoo, etc. In Late February the Tulsa World published a major editorial, written by the entire editorial staff, against the bill. Letters to editors, postings on political and other blogs, and an Op-Ed by Dr. Douglas Mock in The Oklahoman aided in publicity against the measure.
The result of these efforts resulted in HUNDREDS of messages being sent to members of the Senate committee. The messages were still arriving at committee member’s offices on Monday morning as the Committee was meeting. These messages, along with some direct lobbying efforts with committee members by individuals and organizations, were certainly responsible for the defeat. All who helped are thanked for their important help. Once again, when it comes to influencing legislation, NUMBERS DO COUNT.
The backers of this bill are not likely to stop. Since 1999 Oklahoma has had similar bills in all but two years and in one year there were four such measures, more than any other state. None have made it into law! There have been some previous close calls: e.g., a veto of one bill by a former Democratic Governor, defeat on the Senate floor by one vote, defeat in a Senate committee by one vote. In all those cases appropriate lobbying efforts worked. Thus, we must be prepared to continue the opposition in future years. THANKS TO ALL WHO RESPONDED AND MADE THIS DEFEAT POSSIBLE!