LITTLE ROCK — A bill requiring water systems in Arkansas serving 5,000 or more people to add fluoride to public drinking water and one requiring private health insurance companies to cover the diagnosis, testing and treatment of autism are headed to the governor.
By a 56-35 vote, the House today gave final passage to Senate Bill 359 by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock.
The autism insurance legislation, House Bill 1315 by Rep. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, passed 34-0.
Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to sign both bills into law…
The fluoride that passed the House bill would affect 32 communities that currently do not fluoridate drinking water. Rep. Linda Tyler, D-Conway, who presented the bill on the House floor, said fluoride builds up enamel and prevents 60 percent of tooth decay in children and 35 percent in adults.
Delta Dental has pledged to pay start-up expenses for the affected communities, so the cost of the measure is not an issue, Tyler said. Reducing dental problems will save the state and the public money, she said.
“We’ve talked a lot in this session about saving money. This gives us an opportunity to do just that,” she said.
Some opponents argued that communities should be able to control their water supplies, and others argued that fluoride may be harmful to infants.
Tyler said she believed the Legislature was charged with protecting the public health. She said that according to the state Department of Health, fluoride is not bad for babies.
Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, said Fort Smith supplies water to several towns in Oklahoma.
“It would seem like to me that would open us up to a lawsuit if we were putting something that they thought might be poison in their water,” he said.
Rep. Billy Gaskill, D-Paragould, dismissed arguments about the supposed dangers of fluoride, saying, “This stuff has been here 50 years. This is all a lot of baloney.”
Rep. Loy Mauch, R-Bismarck, who opposed the bill, read passages from the U.S. and state constitutions regarding liberty.
“The more government you get, the less liberty you have,” he said.
Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, urged House members to vote for the bill. He said he had received so many phone calls Tuesday from opponents of the bill that his phone battery died, but he believed passing it was “the right thing to do for Arkansans.”…