TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature may not weigh in on the state's new standards for teaching evolution after all.
Chalk it up to a difference of words between two lawmakers' bills, and the reality that there might not be enough time left this session to negotiate a compromise.
The House on Monday voted 71-43 for a controversial evolution bill (HB 1483) that adds to required public school curriculum a "scientific critical analysis" of the theory of evolution.
But the Senate rejected similar language last week, instead passing Brandon Republican Sen. Ronda Storms' "Evolution Academic Freedom Act," a more broadly worded bill (SB 2692) that spells out protections for teachers and students who question evolution.
Storms' bill expressly says that it "does not promote any religious doctrine."
And Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, insists his legislation "has nothing to do with religion."
"A true scientist is searching for the truth, and that's what we should be encouraging," Hays said. "This bill does not promote the teaching of religion."
But critics say that if passed into law, it would open the door for the teaching of religious theories like creationism and intelligent design.
Critics also argue the legislation isn't necessary because science standards inherently encourage critical thinking and discussion.
"This is silly legislation," said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota. "It corrects a problem that does not exist. It's the nature of science that all theories are subject to critical analysis."
But Monday's lengthy debate on the House floor might have been all for naught anyway.
Legislative procedure requires that the House bill now go back to the Senate for consideration.
Unless lawmakers there accept it, the bill cannot go to the governor to sign into law.
Storms said Monday that she knows her chamber won't pass Hays' proposal, so she will ask the House to consider and vote on her version.
"I have no choice," she said. "And I believe in miracles."
Hays said he'll try to get Storms' bill heard before session ends Friday, but he conceded it will take "a lot of lifting."
Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, House majority whip, said there is "not much appetite" in the House for Storms' proposal.
"I think we made our position clear already," she said. "The members are uncomfortable with the Senate version."
Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.