Committee tables Montana bill aiming to limit science education to ‘scientific fact’

Sponsor Sen. Daniel Emrich agrees with rest of committee to table measure

By: - February 13, 2023 5:14 pm

Sen. Daniel Emrich, R-Great Falls, watches testimony from opponents of his Senate Bill 235 on Feb. 6, 2023, in the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

A Senate committee, including the sponsor himself, voted Monday to table a bill that drew heavy opposition last week from teachers, students and others in the STEM community that would have limited science instruction to “scientific fact.”

The Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee tabled Senate Bill 235, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Emrich, R-Great Falls, in a unanimous vote. The chairman of the committee told Emrich he could vote against tabling it, but after a pause, he agreed with the rest of the committee, though he had told members he was offering to amend the bill.

Sen. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, moved to kill the bill, saying she had gotten 100 responses from people opposing it after last Monday’s hearing.

At that hearing, some of Montana’s top science teachers and students implored lawmakers to do what they did this week and put the bill to bed for good. They said it would stop Montana educators from being able to teach common scientific theories, like gravity, atomic theory and the Big Bang Theory, among others.

Multiple students who testified said it would put them far behind their peers in other states while trying to pursue STEM – or science, technology, engineering and math – educations and careers, and a former Missoula science teacher called the measure “the most extreme anti-science legislation” he had ever seen.

During the brief discussion on the measure Monday before it was shelved, Emrich said the bill was the first he had requested drafted back in December, but that it was “confusing in its simplicity.” He maintained he believed that under it, “theories would largely be unaffected.”

“The language of the bill, I thought, was simple,” Emrich said. “But as I have learned, the simpler a bill is, the more fallout, likely, it has.”

He said he thought the bill would have laid out a “stair-stepped approach” to teaching younger children the basics – a good concept that lacked in execution, he said.

“I think that the goal of this bill was intended to be clear to try and slow down the firehose of information to the younger and younger children,” he said. “Because I think that we keep piling more and more on them, and they keep absorbing less and less as a result.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.