Eagle editorial: Legislature should let science be guide

Kansas Legislature
Kansas Legislature AP

Whether the issue is climate change, oral health, wildlife protection or otherwise, the state’s citizen legislators should take care not to govern like know-it-alls but to let scientific evidence and consensus be their guide.

Last year the Legislature flouted science by mandating doctors inform women that the risks of abortion include breast cancer. Other bills considered last year would have required science teachers to spend class time on climate-change denial and forced communities with fluoridated water to warn residents falsely “that ingested fluoride lowers the IQ in children.”

Now, the anti-fluoridation bill, HB 2372, is back – and full of other fiction about fluoride and its human consumption. Though its scheduled Wednesday hearing was canceled by the snowstorm, all those who care about oral health should join the Kansas Dental Association and other groups in defending community water fluoridation, which benefits 62 percent of Kansans (notably not Wichitans).

Then there is HR 6043, a resolution that urges “Congress to oppose the president’s climate action plan” by claiming evidence shows “a complete disconnect” between man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and the Earth’s temperature and by otherwise rejecting global warming or human links to it. Would state lawmakers really substitute their judgment for that of the 97 percent of climate scientists and major U.S. scientific agencies that agree climate change is occurring and that excess greenhouse gases related to human activity are contributing to it?

Two other bills would have legislators decide what constitutes a species worthy of conservation and protection. SB 276, endorsed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, would declare state sovereignty over nonmigratory wildlife, and specifically exclude the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat from any federal protection. It’s meant to head off a possible listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And SB 281, which had a Senate hearing last week, would remove the redbelly snake and the smooth earth snake from the state’s list of threatened species, because some Johnson County elected officials and utility companies think it costs too much to protect the snakes’ habitat during development. But the nonvenomous snakes’ status already is under review by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, which relies on sighting data, expertise and informational meetings.

As Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison told lawmakers: “The thing I’m concerned about is the precedent we’re going to set if we have the Legislature start listing and delisting threatened and endangered species. Because we have thrown science out the window if that’s what we do, if we make the listing of threatened and endangered species a political decision.”

Kansans must be vigilant and vocal to ensure their Legislature passes laws based on science rather than on lawmakers’ whims or politics.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman