Legislation to give local water providers control over whether to add fluoride to the water supply failed to make it out of a Senate committee Wednesday.
House Bill 1355, by Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, received three of the needed five votes to make it out of committee after a limited debate in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
The committee later sent legislation that would reduce licensing regulations on hair braiders and a second measure that would eliminate state funding to several agencies, including Planned Parenthood, to the Senate.
Ladyman's bill would change the language in Act 197 so that the entity providing water can decide to adjust the fluoride levels or whether to add fluoride at all. Ladyman said he did not want to debate the science of whether fluoride has positive dental-health benefits but said the requirement places an unnecessary burden on water providers because most water is not consumed.
"This bill gives local water control to local water boards," he said. "I think that's important for a couple reasons. Only about 5 percent -- and that's probably a high figure -- of water that is treated is used for drinking water. Probably less than 5 percent. The rest of it goes toward washing cars and other things. But we're treating 100 percent of the water, so it's not a very effective delivery method."
The Legislature passed Act 197 in 2011, which requires cities and towns that provide or sell water to more than 5,000 people to install fluoridation systems in water plants, but only if private funding is available. Systems such as the one in Texarkana, where the water is pumped in from out of state, are exempted.
Opponents of the bill, including representatives of Arkansas Children's Hospital and the Arkansas State Dental Association, said orally supplied fluoride makes the biggest difference in children's dental health.
"This is an anti-fluoridation bill disguised as a local control bill," said Dr. Drew Toole, president of the Dental Association. "As a dentist that works in an area where part of the water is fluoridated and where the rural water associations have not fluoridated their water, I see people and children on a regular basis that have not had fluoridation or preventative care and you can tell by looking at the children, what area they've come from."
Several water utilities spoke in favor of the bill, saying their customers have made clear to their governing boards that they don't want fluoride in the water.
The legislation has passed through the House and can be reintroduced in the Senate committee.
The committee unanimously passed HB1177, by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, which aims to exempt natural-hair braiders from a state law that requires cosmetology licenses and 1,500 hours of training, often costing thousands of dollars.
The legislation was written in response to litigation filed in federal court in June challenging those regulations, which exist in only a handful of states.
HB1177 would exempt braiders of natural hair -- done without chemicals -- from the regulations required of cosmetologists by the state's Cosmetology Technical Advisory Board. Braiders who use chemical bonding or glues, or offer other cosmetology services, still would be regulated.
The committee also passed SB569, by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, which bars the disbursement of funds by the state to "certain entities," specifically those that perform elective abortions or give abortion referrals.
The bill would not affect funding of a hospital, medical school or university, nor apply to funding available through the Medicaid program. The bill would cut off any funding through grants or other means to Planned Parenthood operators in the state.
Ashley Wright from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland protested, saying state law already prohibits the use of those funds to provide abortions. She said cutting off all state funds will reduce preventive women's health care such as breast exams.
The bill now will go to the Senate floor.
Metro on 03/05/2015
Print Headline: Committee douses water-provider control of fluoride