Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Rouson wants Florida lawmakers to make Pinellas add fluoride to water

A St. Petersburg lawmaker wants the Legislature to force Pinellas County to add fluoride to its drinking water again.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson filed a one-sentence amendment to a bill Monday to make Pinellas restart the practice it abandoned Dec. 31.

"It's a significant health issue," said Rouson. "It would not only affect low income and poor people in my county, but counties across the state. I think there should be some uniformity in heath care, health treatment."

Most dentists and major health groups, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consider adding fluoride a safe and efficient way to prevent tooth decay, particularly for needy children.

Opponents call the practice risky — noting recent federal curbs on maximum levels for infants — and an abuse of personal freedom.

County commissioners agreed in a 4-3 vote last year, grabbing national attention. The decision to stop the seven-year-old practice affected 700,000 residents.

Pinellas Park recently decided to add fluoride to the drinking water it purchases from the county. St. Petersburg fluoridates its water, as does Tampa and Hillsborough County.

Rouson's amendment must win a vote by the Florida House to be added to the bill (HB 373). Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, the bill's sponsor, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Ultimately, the Republican-controlled Legislature would have to agree to delve into a local fight on behalf of Rouson, a Democrat. The House also requires amendments to be germane to bills, in this case one about stormwater discharges.

Generally, county delegations decide local matters before they reach Tallahassee, too.

"It's late for that," said Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, who suggested the issue is best left to Pinellas. "Darryl's very innovative like that. He can come up with all kinds of ways to raise issues. They aren't all in the proper form."

Nothing in state law requires utilities to add fluoride. Rouson said his measure would be a first step toward a state policy. A single-vote margin on the commission, Rouson noted, "reversed a process that was delivering what many people thought was appropriate for the needs and health care of the county."

The amendment serves to keeps politically charged issue alive.

Former legislators Charlie Justice and Janet Long, both Democrats, have cited the commission's vote among reasons that they are considering running for the board in this year's election.

They would challenge Republicans Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield, who voted to stop adding fluoride.

"I'm not surprised to see somebody at the state level pick this up and run with this," Brickfield said. "Let's remember there's a long way between filing an amendment and getting it through both houses."

A poll for the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 in December showed strong support for fluoride and disapproval of the commission's action.

"It seems like an attempt to address a real health issue. I don't think it's a partisan issue," said Commissioner Ken Welch, the board's lone Democrat, who voted to continue fluoridation.

David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes

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