SALEM, Ore. — A House panel approved a bill that would require major Oregon cities to fluoridate their water unless they lack the money to pay for the defense against tooth decay.
The measure backed yesterday by the House Water Committee prohibits water suppliers from charging their customers or taxpayers for the fluoridation. There’s also no state money in the bill to aid local water systems.
Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, the committee chairman, said local fluoridation should be required but the state can’t afford to help pay the costs because of its tight budget.
The measure now goes to the full House. It is a revised version of a bill that would not have allowed municipalities to opt out.
“We still consider it a mandate if funding becomes available,” said Willie Tiffany of the League of Oregon Cities.
Backers of the bill claim it accomplishes something by putting lawmakers on record as favoring fluoridation.
“This says the Legislature favors fluoridation,” said Rep. Billy Dalto, R-Salem, who plans to lead House debate on the bill. “We will worry about the money later.”
Dalto said dentists have told him they are interested in trying to raise private financing or obtain federal funds to finance fluoridation projects.
Lawmakers for decades have argued about requiring statewide fluoridation; critics claim there are health risks from exposure to the chemical.
Roughly 20 percent of Oregonians drink fluoridated water, which health professionals say is an easy and safe method of preventing tooth decay in children and adults.
The bill applies to water systems serving at least 10,000 people. Major cities without fluoridated water include Portland, Eugene, Medford, Bend and Gresham.
Local-government representatives say few — if any — municipal water suppliers have finances other than public funds, which could make adding fluoridation a tough proposition.
“All the money we have is from our ratepayers,” said Libby Henry, lobbyist for the Eugene Water & Electric Board, a utility supplying water to 168,000 people.
Eugene-area water customers have voted on fluoridation four times, most recently rejecting the idea in 1977.