In mid-March, a superior court judge suspended the recently passed childrens vision law in North Carolina. The judges order prevents the state from enforcing the mandate on childrens eye exams until at least July 2007 and prohibits further court proceedings until October.

The law would have required kindergarten students to get an eye exam by the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year. Without it, these children could not attend school.

After the law was passed, the North Carolina School Boards Association as well as 87 local school boards filed a lawsuit that challenged the law. The school boards said the law was unconstitutional because it required parents to pay for an eye exam, which effectively denies children a free education. (See N.C. Kids Vision Law Under Attack, March 15, 2006.)

The attorney for the school boards is hoping the legislature will repeal the law this summer.

Meanwhile in North Carolina, politicians and newspaper editors are calling for the resignation of the state speaker of the house, Jim Black, who is an optometrist. Dr. Black was a major force behind the passage of the childrens vision law.

Dr. Black and the optometric political action committee (PAC) in North Carolina have been under scrutiny by the state board of elections, as well as a federal grand jury, due to questionable campaign contributions. In late March, the board of elections ruled that Dr. Black and his campaign broke state campaign law.

At issue: Optometrists gave checks to the PAC, but left the payee lines on their checks blank. Dr. Black or a PAC representative would later fill in the name of the intended political candidate.

Former Deputy Attorney General Edwin Speas, who is also former counsel for the board of elections, testified at a hearing that this contribution method is indeed lawful as long as the contributor is aware of the process.

Nevertheless, the election board ruled that this contribution method violates disclosure laws. The board sent the case to a district attorney for possible prosecution. The board also ordered Dr. Blacks campaign to forfeit to the state $23,675the amount of campaign contributions in question (which includes contributions from O.D.s, as well as the video poker industry and other businesses).

Dr. Black has agreed to refund the contributions, but has also filed for an appeal against the boards decision. He steadfastly refuses the request to resign.

Amid all this, the future of the childrens vision law stands on shakierand recedingground. The issue thats been nearly forgotten is the attention due to North Carolina schoolchildren, says optometrist Hal Herring, president of the North Carolina State Optometric Society.

It would be a shame for children if the legislature does repeal the law because the law really does have tremendous merit, Dr. Herring says. In North Carolina, were currently missing amblyopia in many children, but this problem could be fixed if we caught it early enough.

As many as 3,000 to 4,000 children a year become amblyopic in North Carolina, Dr. Herring estimates.

This is the message that he and his colleagues are taking back to the legislature before the session resumes in May. Well ask them to look at the merits of the law and to make a decision thats good for the kids of North Carolina rather than one based on politics, he says.

North Carolina Optometry School on Hold
Plans for the proposed school of optometry at the University of North Carolinas Pembroke campus have been postponed. School officials did not state the reason for this decision.

Instead, UNC Pembroke will focus on the expansion of its nursing and allied health programs to help address the states critical shortage in these areas, says Glen Burnette, vice chancellor for university and community relations. To that end, the university has submitted a request to re-channel bond money for this purpose [i.e., the optometry school] to the general assembly.

But this doesnt mean that plans for a new optometry school have been cancelled. The University of North Carolina hopes to re-address the state and regions need for the establishment of a school of optometry in the near future, Mr. Burnette says.

Vol. No: 143:04Issue: 4/15/2006