The battle over Arkansas’s expanded scope of optometric practice rages on after a decision by the secretary of state’s office earlier this month to deny a proposed ballot referendum on the law. The new law—Act 579, which opens up several procedures to optometry—was signed by the governor in March and was subsequently challenged by a medical group called Safe Surgery Arkansas.1 The group had hoped to put the fate of the bill on a ballot, but their efforts were rejected after improper filing of signatures in a public petition left them short of the requirement. Now, another new law may give them a second shot.
At the heart of the matter is Arkansas’s Act 376, which went into effect this year as well.2 That legislation puts ballot measure decisions in the hands of the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners instead of the Secretary of State.2 This would be the first time the board has acted on its new role, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.3 Last week, that board certified a title and popular name as meeting the standards of state law, a potential sign that Safe Surgery Arkansas is interested in pursuing further action via this alternate route.3 When the group submitted signatures to the Secretary of State’s office earlier this month, they were rejected because they failed to submit sworn statements to verify their paid canvassers were never convicted of a felony or crime involving fraud, forgery, identity theft or other election law violations, according to a letter from the Secretary of State’s office.4
It’s unclear whether Safe Surgery Arkansas will need to collect new signatures or if they can submit the original rejected signatures to the Board of Election Commissioners.
Meanwhile, optometrists are moving ahead. “It is our opinion that Act 579 is now law,” said Vicki Farmer of the Arkansas Optometric Association. The legislation updates optometry’s definition in the state to include local injections, incision and curettage of chalazia, removal of superficial periocular skin lesions and some laser procedures (with training and certification). “While the law in Arkansas is in force, the credentialing process is still being developed, so Arkansas optometrists aren’t currently performing any of the new procedures listed in Act 579,” explained Belinda Starkey, OD, a practitioner in Arkansas. “The board [of optometry in the state] has been working to draft the rules for credentialing since the law passed.”
1. Eubanks J. Act 579. Arkansas State Assembly. www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2019/2019R/Acts/Act579.pdf. March 4, 2019.
2. Pitsch M. Act 376. Arkansas State Senate. www.sos.arkansas.gov/uploads/elections/Act376.pdf. February 20, 2019.
3. Wickline M. With panel's OK, eye-care issue clears one hurdle for 2020 ballot. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/aug/20/with-panel-s-ok-eye-care-issue-clears-o/. August 20, 2019. Accessed August 26, 2019.
4. Mershon M. Majority of signatures submitted to challenge optometry eye surgery law not being counted. KATV. katv.com/news/local/majority-of-signatures-submitted-to-challenge-optometry-eye-surgery-law-not-being-counted. July 23, 2019. Accessed August 5, 2019.