A bill that would allow water fluoridation to be locally controlled passed the House on Thursday.

House Bill 1355, sponsored by Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, said his bill didn’t focus on the science of whether fluoride should be included in water, but instead gave local control to cities and counties over the water supply.

Several representatives expressed concern that the bill wouldn’t actually give local people control over the water supply.

“I suspect most have not read this bill,” Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, said. “I don’t think this bill says what you think it says. It says the entity that owns and controls water system will determine will adjust fluoride levels. It does not say local election or local people will have any say optimal levels fluoride put in water.”

Ferguson said as a dentist, she’s seen the different in dental health for patients with fluoride in drinking water and those without.

“[This bill] will mostly affect economically disadvantaged citizens, primarily children, who cannot afford…dental care,” she said. “The most vulnerable Arkansans will not receive the protection we are afforded. These are important public health decisions.”

Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, also spoke against the bill and noted that several other southern states mandate water fluoridation.

“Other southern states like Kentucky mandated fluoridation in 1966,” Flowers said. “Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia mandated it. These are all rural areas with rural issues and rural concerns like we do with just as much a principled belief in local control like we do.”

Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, and several others urged members to vote for the bill because of the local control aspect.

Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, said she originally planned to vote for the bill but changed her mind because she didn’t feel like the bill would give local people control of water fluoridation. She said she would vote for local control if an amendment or another bill was presented allowing for the education and control of residents in those areas.

The bill passed with 60 voting for the bill and 34 voting against it, and will now head to the Senate for approval.

See Friday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full coverage.