Referendum Sought on New Optometry Law
A new state law expanding what procedures optometrists can do for patients is being challenged through Arkansas' referendum process.
Safe Surgery Arkansas recently announced their intent to challenge Act 579 of the 2019 Arkansas Legislative Session. The ballot issue group, formed by attorney Alex Gray, has until July 23 to collect just under 54,000 voter signatures to put the law on the 2020 ballot.
If the group is successful, voters will decide whether to keep the law or repeal the law.
The law amended three existing state laws regarding the scope of practice for optometrists. Specifically, the law amended the definition of "practice of optometry" and will allow optometrists to perform the following procedures:
- Injections, excluding intravenous or intraocular injections
- Incision and curettage of a chalazion
- Removal and biopsy of skin lesions with low risk of malignancy, excluding lesions involving the lid margin or nasal to the puncta
- Laser capsulotomy
- Laser trabeculoplasty
The law also tasked the State Board of Optometry to establish credentialing requirements to perform the above procedures, and added a reporting requirement for optometrists on the outcome of performed procedures.
Act 579 attracted a lot of debate at the Capitol during the session between ophthalmologists and optometrists.
Optometrists are eye doctors who earned a Doctor of Optometry degree. They examine eyes for vision problems and can prescribe glasses and contact lenses.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who are able to perform eye exams, treat diseases, prescribe medications and perform surgery. They have completed four years of medical school, a hospital internship and three-year surgical residency.
The new law has its supporters. Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, led by Vicki Farmer of the Arkansas Optometric Association, formed its own ballot question group this week to support and keep Act 579.
In Arkansas, citizens have the ability to challenge new state laws through the referendum process. The Arkansas Constitution says signatures must be collected and submitted within 90 days of the end of the legislative session, which is July 23 this year.
Referendum campaigns must have voter signatures equaling 6 percent of the number of votes cast in the last governor's election, which would be 53,491. Campaigns tend to collect more than the required number to make up for any signatures declared invalid by election officials.
If successful, this referendum would be the first since 1994. Arkansans have voted in six referendums since 1952.