Last month we told you about two State Legislators in New Hampshire who introduced House Bill 312, an act relative to notice required for the fluoridation of drinking water (bill text). If passed into law, the bill would have required "public water systems which provide fluoridation to place a warning on all billing statements against fluoride-treated water for infants under the age of 12 months." This notice would have informed parents and caregivers in NH about the risks posed to infants from fluoridated tap water, helping to protect children from overexposure and dental fluorosis.
Sadly, last week the bill was killed by the NH legislature after the House Health and Human Services committee (HHS) recommended that it be "inexpedient to legislate".
In February, HHS held a public hearing where they heard testimony in support of the bill from more than a dozen people, including a dentist and fluorosis expert, a doctor, a public health nurse, multiple state legislators, and representatives from the NH Health Freedom Association, the NH Clean Water Association, and the Fluoride Action Network. Committee members also received more than 500 emails from local supporters, including written testimony from multiple NH pediatricians.
Several organizations opposed the bill, including the NH Dental Association, the NH Oral Health Coalition, and the NH Water Works Association. Both dental organizations claimed that they supported educating parents about infant exposure to fluoride, but believed that the notice should be given only in the doctors office, and not be placed on water bills where they claimed it could "scare" water customers. The Water Works Association opposed the bill for financial reason, claiming that they would have to spend money on additional ink and on re-formatting water bills to fit the notice.
An HHS subcommittee was assigned to review HB312 further, with the most pro-fluoride committee member, Rep. DiPentima, as chair of the subcommittee. Even with strong opposition from local dental and water works organizations, and a subcommittee chair who historically opposed FAN campaigns, the subcommittee ended their first meeting ready to pass the bill with a slight amendment to the wording of the notice.
Unfortunately, prior to the second subcommittee meeting the NH Municipal Association joined in opposition to the bill, arguing that it was unconstitutional because it required municipally-owned water companies to pay additional money for the ink necessary to print the warning on water bills, making it an unfunded mandate.
Despite NH Supreme Court precedent, and evidence from FAN showing that the bill was in fact constitutional, the argument was enough to put doubt into committee member's minds. The sub-committee recommended that the bill be "inexpedient to legislate" because of "possible constitutional conflicts".
During the final HHS meeting on HB312, committee members stated their support for infant notice legislation, and suggested that it be re-introduced in 2012, and require that the warning notice be placed on the annual consumer confidence reports sent to all public water customers by public water companies, and require by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. This suggestion was also supported by the NH Dental Association, the NH Water Works Association, and the NH Municipal Association.
FAN plans on introducing our improved infant notice legislation in NH next year, but in the meantime we will also be working with legislators and advocates from across the country to introduce infant notice bills in as many communities as possible. Few states share the same constitutional roadblock as NH, and an unfunded mandate claim cannot be made against bills introduced at the municipal level.
Stuart Cooper, Campaign Manager
Fluoride Action Network