Alabama's Senate Healthcare Committee voted 7-6 against the state's laser bill prior to the public hearing. In positive news, the ALOA is planning to regroup next month to discuss how and when to reintroduce the legislation. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress.

Editor’s Note: As part of our “Year in Review” retrospective, we’ve selected the top 30 news stories of the year and are re-sharing them as we close out 2023. Follow along as we count down to number 1!

This story was originally published May 22, 2023.

No. 23 biggest news story of 2023:

Earlier this month on May 9, the Alabama House voted 78-6 in favor of HB 349, a bill proposing a long-overdue update to the state’s optometric scope of practice that would’ve included capsulotomy, trabeculoplasty, skin lesion removal, fluorescein angiography and intense pulsed light treatment, among other procedures. The legislation was scheduled for a hearing with the Senate Healthcare Committee last Wednesday; however, things took an unfortunate turn and the bill was terminated by the Committee before it ever reached the Senate floor.

Prior to the scheduled hearing, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Danny Garrett, presented an overview of the bill to the Committee, which then voted 7-6 against a favorable report. Despite the attendance of about a dozen ODs from the Alabama Optometric Association (ALOA) at the meeting, the entire affair lasted just 10 minutes with minimal discussion. To make matters even more frustrating, Committee members who voted against the bill did not even offer the rationale behind their decisions.

If the bill had been brought to the Senate floor, the ALOA feels confident that it would have received strong bipartisan support, as it did in the House. But, due to the Committee’s motion, the ALOA, Alabama optometrists and other supporters of the legislation were denied the opportunity to have their voices heard.

Despite the setback, Howard Day, OD, president of the ALOA, commends the members of the ALOA scope expansion team—referred to as “Hornets”—for fighting hard to advocate for the bill. “I’m super proud of the Hornets Nest,” says Dr. Day. “We’ve never had such passion to update our scope in years. Our esprit de corps is at an all-time high. We will prevail,” he assures. “Lasers in ’24!”

Efforts to expand the practice scope for Alabama ODs certainly aren’t ceasing. Next month, the ALOA and other advocates of the bill plan to regroup and determine how to reintroduce the legislation in a future session. In the meantime, the association and ODs in the state will continue to strengthen their relationships with legislators.

“Success boils down to trusted relationships between legislators and key person optometrists,” says Dr. Day. “So, if your state is contemplating scope expansion, start now,” he advises.