A bill that would give fluoride opponents yet another opportunity to remove the treatment from their water systems passed the House on Friday.
After lawmakers amended HB64 to allow citizen-driven initiatives for either the removal or addition of fluoride to be placed on any general election ballot, the measure passed on a 63-10 vote. Before the change, the bill would have allowed such a vote every five years.
A fluoride revote is necessary because of the escalating costs of the treatment, said Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, sponsor of HB64. Under current law, however, a petition for a local vote is possible for the addition of fluoride, while the removal of fluoride would have to be voted on through a state-wide ballot initiative.
Barrus said that while the new rules would only apply to fluoride votes, it is a concept that should be extended to all election issues.
“[Fluoride] is a very passionate subject for many people,” he said. “But we’re not here to talk about our opinions of fluoride, but about the citizens right to choose for themselves.”
While representatives generally supported the idea of allowing both supporters and opponents of fluoride a chance to put the issue on the ballot, the length of time between fluoride votes generated significant debate. Originally drafted with no time constraints, it had been amended in committee to require five-years between fluoride votes.
Once on the house floor, however, Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, successfully removed that amendment. But Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, countered with an amendment to have fluoride votes happen only during a general election ˜ which are on even years when either a presidential or Congressional election is being held.
Allen’s amendment was approved narrowly, 38-36.
“This is a very controversial issue in Davis County,” she said. “It should, at least, be considered during a general election so there is a larger number of voters.”
In the 2000 general election, Davis County voters decided by a 52 percent-to-48 percent margin to have fluoride added to their drinking water supply. A move to revote on fluoride during the 2002 general election, prompted by a petition with 9,650 signatures, was stopped when 2nd District Judge Glen Dawson ruled that the petition was insufficient and state law did not allow a vote on removing fluoride.
Now city officials are complaining that adding fluoride is becoming more expensive than previously thought.
Some representatives, while still supporting the bill, questioned the necessity of these rules for just the fluoride issue, when it is not being extended to all ballot issues. Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, said that he has often voted on the losing side of ballot issues, such as school bonds, that he is not allowed to put back on the ballot.
“People should have the right to decide,” Thompson said. “If we put this same burden on every issue, this would be different.”
Rep. Loraine Pace, R-Logan, said that the bill infringes on the rights of the majority who voted to fluoridate the water. Since the issue had already been decided ˜ albeit by a small margin ˜ and that the implementation process is well underway, it should not become a perennial election issue.
“There was a vote of the people, and the majority said they wanted fluoride in the water,” Pace said. “We have to be careful that we would let people to just revoke an issue without regards to the majority.”