BATESVILLE State Senator Jack Critcher, D-Batesville, the chair of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, was out-of-state last week and unavailable to comment on statements made about him by Dr. Lynn Mouden, director of the Arkansas Health Department’s Office of Oral Health, at the Celebration of 60 Years of Community Water Fluoridation symposium in Chicago in July. Critcher called the Citizen Monday to respond to Mouden’s charges.
Last week the Citizen reported on Mouden’s speech at the symposium, in which he blamed Critcher for the defeat of a bill before the legislature that would have required water systems in the state serving more than 5,000 people to fluoridate the water they provide. Mouden said Critcher wasn’t even opposed to the fluoridation, but didn’t vote to pass the bill out of committee because he was trading off for a vote on another issue.
Mouden said Critcher’s non-vote was for political reasons and he said he was going to ask Critcher to sponsor the fluoridation legislation in the next legislative session.
“He and I have discussed his comments,” Critcher said Monday. “I asked why he would make those statements. I told him he was making those remarks without checking his facts. I don’t know where he got that information.”
Critcher noted he did not vote on the issue, as is the chair’s prerogative in a tied committee vote. The committee voted 3-3 and bills require four affirmative votes for passage to the full senate.
Regarding the alleged “trade off,” Critcher said: “Nothing could be further from the truth. No one from the pro-fluoridation side even lobbied me on that bill until way late.”
By the time he was lobbied, Critcher said he had made a commitment to committee member Senator Steve Farris not to support the bill. “Steve Farris had strong feeling on the issue,” Critcher said.
Critcher said he believed the issue was one of local control that should be left to local jurisdictions. “I’ve always been a local control individual. During the presentation, some of the evidence presented at least deserved a second look. There is more to it than local control. There are some health concerns that need to be looked at, there may be some adverse effects. We need to err on the side of local control.”
Critcher said he also had difficulty reconciling the fact the bill only called for fluoridating water systems with a certain number of customers. “If it’s so great, why not mandate it for everyone? They said because there was no money, but a section of the bill said fluoridation would only be required if grant money was available, so that argument didn’t stand up. They wanted us to believe the health benefits outweighed any risks, but I couldn’t reconcile those differences. Why do you want to exclude some people?”
“If it’s as good as they say, they should be able to sell it to every community.”
Critcher said he wanted to leave the details of his conversation with Mouden private, but noted Mouden’s comments in Chicago would not sway him in the direction of supporting a mandatory fluoridation bill. He said after reading the transcript of Mouden’s speech he believes “he was just up there having fun at other people’s expense. As portrayed in the article he treated the whole thing as a joke. That he would make light of the serious concerns me. I’m surprised someone in his position would act so irresponsibly: making allegations without ever discussing it with me.”
As for him supporting similar bills in the future, Critcher said he would have to weigh the evidence. When presentations were made in April, he “learned more than I ever thought I would” about the subject. “I would have to look at the facts and weigh the evidence. But if we’re going to require it, it must be for everyone. Again, it’s about local control. We have to allow the freedom to choose how we live our lives.”
“I certainly don’t plan to sponsor the bill.”