LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state House approved a bill Wednesday that would bring fluoridation to smaller water systems across the state, but only after a debate in which advocates cited the terrible dental health of rural Arkansans and opponents said the state shouldn’t make decisions for municipalities.
The measure, previously approved by the Senate, cleared the House 56-35 and now goes to Gov. Mike Beebe, who has said he will sign it.
Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, acknowledged that there is a need to improve the dental health of children, but he said that was outweighed by the state placing an unfunded mandate on communities.
“My people in my city don’t want this,” Lane said. “When you vote for this, you vote against home rule.”
Rep. Loy Mauch, R-Bismarck, read portions of the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, saying the state shouldn’t meddle in the affairs of local water districts.
“Liberty is defined as being not subject to restraint or control,” Mauch said.
Earlier in the session, a House committee voted down a bill by Mauch that would have banned water systems from adding lithium to drinking water as a way to alter mood imbalances.
The Delta Dental Foundation of Arkansas, which promotes dental health, has pledged to donate the equipment necessary for water districts to add fluoridation. About 60 percent of Arkansans drink fluoridated water. The bill would provide the donated equipment to districts with 5,000 or more customers, thus bringing fluoridated water to 80 percent of the state, including an additional 147,000 children.
Some legislators questioned how much it would cost to maintain the system.
Rep. Linda Tyler, R-Conway, said districts would pay about 50 cents per person each year to pay for the additive. The investment would save $3 million per year in children’s dental bills, much of which is borne by the state through public assistance programs, she said. Tyler also noted that students would miss fewer school days due to severe dental problems.
“This presents a tremendous opportunity to us,” Tyler said.
Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, said he was concerned about cities along the state’s borders that provide drinking water for people in neighboring states.
“This could open us up to a lawsuit if they thought that we were putting something that was poison in” the water,” Altes said.
Rep. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, said he spoke to older dentists who told him about the dramatic improvement in dental health that they saw in the years after West Memphis began fluoridation.
Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, said fluoridation could actually lead to dental problems and that cities that have voted against fluoridation in the past shouldn’t be forced to do it now.
“This is a lot of baloney,” replied retired dentist Rep. Billy Gaskill, D-Paragould, who noted that nobody complains about iodine being added to salt.