LITTLE ROCK — A House committee on Tuesday endorsed a bill that would let local communities and water utilities decide whether to add fluoride to public water supplies.

LITTLE ROCK — A House committee on Tuesday endorsed a bill that would let local communities and water utilities decide whether to add fluoride to public water supplies.


House Bill 1355 by Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, received a "do pass" recommendation from the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee and heads next to the House.


Under the bill, a city, county or company that controls a water system could decide whether to adjust the fluoride level in the water and would not be allowed to exceed the maximum level recommended by the state Health Department. There would be no minimum level, allowing the level to be set at zero if the controlling entity wishes.


Act 197 of 2011 currently requires any water system in the state serving 5,000 people or more to set a fluoride level within the minimum and maximum levels recommended by the Health Department. A water system does not have to comply unless private funds are available to cover fluoridation costs.


"I feel that the people who drink the water should vote on or decide what they put in the water," Ladyman told the committee.


Health Department Director Dr. Nate Smith, and Dr. Lindy Bollen, director of the department’s Office of Oral Health, testified against the bill.


Fluoride "greatly reduces the incidents of decay, especially in our target populations where they don’t have the services," Bollen said.


Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, a dentist, said she had seen an appreciable difference between the oral health of children in West Memphis where the water was fluoridated and children in communities without fluoride in the water. Tooth problems are a common reason children miss school, she said.


"You can say this is about local control, but you weren’t for local control when you wanted cursive writing and discrimination," Ferguson said, referring to bills approved by the Republican-controlled House to require the teaching of cursive in schools and prohibit cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination ordinances.


The panel endorsed the bill in an 11-5 vote.


Also Tuesday, the committee rejected HB 1311 by Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, which would end enrollment in the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option. The bill failed in a 7-11 vote.


Act 46 of 2015, approved earlier this session, calls for the private option to end Dec. 31, 2016, and for a legislative task force to look for an alternative model to replace it.