"Obviously, there's a division," Blackwell said.
He acknowledged that he had met with Discovery Institute representatives on one occasion and that the organization had offered him further support.
Sen. Judy Burges (R), sponsor of Arizona S.B. 1213, declined to comment -- her press secretary said she was not granting interviews "this year." But Burges did speak to Arizona's Capitol Media Services recently, saying, "There should be an opportunity for teachers to step up to the plate and give their opinion -- if they have scientific proof that it isn't happening, that it's a natural phenomena -- without retribution."
Kansas H.B. 2306 is unique in that climate science is the only controversial scientific topic mentioned. Rep. Dennis Hedke (R), who sponsored the bill, said this was done for the sake of simplicity. Hedke denied any connection to the Discovery Institute, saying H.B. 2306 was inspired by earlier legislation.
Operation Academic Freedom
The Discovery Institute's pet issue is not climate change but evolution. According to its website, the organization "seeks to counter the materialistic interpretation of science by demonstrating that life and the universe are the products of intelligent design." The group, which reported more than $5 million in contributions in 2011, funds a projects in various areas, including research on intelligent design and the Academic Freedom campaign.
Earlier this month, Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll revealed documents showing that a group called Donors Trust, which has been in the news recently for funding a number of conservative causes including climate denial groups, gave $750,000 to the Discovery Institute (ClimateWire, Feb. 15).
Asked about this, John West, an associate director of the Discovery Institute, said funds were received through Donors Trust but used to finance other work and not the climate teaching legislation. "In the past, some of our donors have been targeted for harassment by Darwin-only activists," he explained, noting that the trust keeps the identities of its donors secret.
In 2007, the Discovery Institute released a model bill for legislators aimed at providing legal protection to educators and students presenting "scientific criticisms" of evolution. However, Youngkin said that he considers Tennessee H.B. 368, which was signed into law in April 2012, "gold standard now for language."
Like those introduced in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona, H.B. 368 names global warming as a scientific controversy and states that educators are permitted to introduce "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" on the subject.
Youngkin wrote a how-to guide for lawmakers on introducing "academic freedom legislation" on a Discovery Institute website in March 2012, providing examples on language that would avoid legal challenges.
Although Youngkin characterized the recent series of bills as "state-led, grass-roots" campaigns, he said the Discovery Institute will supply any assistance necessary for legislators, including providing public testimony, private consultations, and "expert help on drafting language and stating objections."
Youngkin said that although the Discovery Institute has no official position on climate change, "we definitely have a position on whether or not there should be investigation in schools on that subject."