A person would have to have been living in a cave in these parts not to know that fluoridation is a controversial issue in Texarkana. So state Rep. Steve Harrelson’s actions on a bill to require fluoridation in Arkansas municipal water supplies seem murky.

Harrelson knew Arkansas-side residents were opposed to fluoridation, yet he voted for the bill. His reasoning: He had been assured that since Texarkana Water Utilities, a joint operation of both cities, operates across the state line in Texarkana, Texas, the measure would not affect Texarkana, Ark., water. Just the same, though, he now plans to offer an amendment to make sure it does not apply to Texarkana, Ark.

This is backstroking from a public official who rode a wave created by another legislator until he found himself in over his head at home.

Knowing how his constituents feel about fluoridation, he should have voted no from the get-go. He was sent to Little Rock to take care of Texarkana first.

And while it is commendable that Harrelson is concerned about the public health of other Arkansans, it does not seem fair that they should be saddled with the costs—health, financial and otherwise—that the people he represents will be (supposedly) exempted from.

As to amending the bill, we have to ask: How is that done after the bill has passed the House? Will he get a senator to offer it up on his behalf?

All along, the Arkansas legislative attention to fluoridation has been a little stealthy. Committee hearings were held before the Legislature convened in January, but opponents of fluoridation had to impose themselves on the committee. They were not sought out.

The recent votes haven’t attracted a lot of media attention, even though some rather large population blocks, including Fort Smith, will be affected by this legislation. One would think that if this issue is of such paramount value to public health, legislators would want more than a sprinkling of public opinion.

On another level, this legislation has the potential to tilt the balance of power between the two Texarkanas. The Texas-side city council has never had to vote on the fluoridation issue, or call for a public vote on the issue, because Arkansas-side voters have always made such action moot by voting it down. They did so twice, by significant margins.

However, if this legislation passes, and even if Texarkana is somehow exempted from it, it will only be exempt as long as the Texas side decides to stay unfluoridated. If the Texas side decides to fluoridate, it won’t matter that the Arkansas side doesn’t want the stuff in its water because the state of Arkansas, by its legislative action, will have created public policy mandating that it is in the best interest of cities our size to do so.

The Arkansas side will have no leverage. As such, what the Texas side decides, the whole of Texarkana will get. The balance has shifted.

Beyond that, it is disconcerting that the state wants to impose its will on this facet of our lives, particularly when local governing bodies are perfectly capable of evaluating the data, seeking public comment and making decisions that are supported by the people using the water system.

That’s how it should be.

How it has been—getting a large dose of other know-it-alls deciding what is best for us and having it crammed down our collective throat— just doesn’t wash.