Earlier today, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed Florida's anti-optometry bill SB-230.
Earlier today, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed Florida's anti-optometry bill SB-230. Click image to enlarge.

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 June 2, 2023.

No. 9 biggest news story of 2023:

For months, optometry has been vigorously fighting to push back against SB 230, a Florida bill threatening to ban ODs from using the titles “doctor” and “physician” and subjecting them to a felony prosecution for doing so. Earlier today, optometrists and advocates finally saw the fruits of their labor when Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed the harmful legislation.

“It is with sincere gratitude that the governor was able to see that SB 230 discriminated against the honorable profession of optometry and that the role optometrists play in the delivery of quality eye care for all Floridians will not be diminished or tarnished in any way,” says Mark T. Marciano, OD, president of the Florida Optometric Association (FOA).

Ronald L. Benner, OD, president of the American Optometric Association (AOA), also praises Florida’s governor for his decision to veto. “Governor DeSantis’s decisive action today is a powerful message of support for and recognition of optometry’s essential and expanding role in health care,” says Dr. Benner.

The legislation was first introduced back in February and received strong bipartisan support from both the Florida Senate (37-0) and House (111-3). The original version of the bill proposed that while other medical specialists with similar four-year post-graduate degrees, such as dentists, chiropractors and podiatrists, would still be able to identify themselves as “doctor” and “physician,” optometrists would not due to the exclusion of the terms from Florida’s optometric practice act.

In an attempt to remove this stipulation from the bill’s language, after the third Senate reading last month, optometry advocates including the FOA and AOA introduced an amendment proposing that the document be revised to state the following: “An optometrist licensed under chapter 463 [Florida’s practice act for optometrists] may use the following titles and abbreviations as applicable to his or her license, specialty and certification: ‘doctor of optometry,’ ‘optometric physician’ and other titles or abbreviations authorized under his or her practice act.”

Both the Florida Senate and House refused to accept the amendment, sending the final bill off to the Governor’s desk containing its original anti-optometry language. But, in the end, optometry went home with the win, thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ commendable decision to veto and the tireless advocacy efforts of optometrists, the AOA and state associations across the country.

“The FOA board of trustees wants to thank everyone across the state of Florida and around the country who took the time to write or call the governor's office asking for a veto,” praises Dr. Marciano. “We also wish to thank the AOA and its staff, every state association and the many individuals, entities and organizations for their ongoing support of Florida optometry."

Dr. Benner also applauds the efforts of the FOA in helping to block the bill. “The FOA fought and prevailed in a challenging battle and did so by remaining confident in the knowledge that truth, fairness and the needs of patients across the Sunshine State would prevail,” he says. “I’m proud to say thank you to Governor DeSantis, the FOA and colleagues from across the country who helped ensure that our profession was heard loud and clear.”

While we celebrate the triumphant win in Florida, it’s important to recognize that at least six other states still have not-a-doctor bills in play this year, highlighting the need for the optometry community to remain tenacious in advocating for their rights.

The same fight may return to Florida next year, if lobbyists are to be believed. “We look forward to hearing the Governor’s concerns, which we hope to address when we bring back the bill next Session,” lobbyist Chris Nuland told the website floridapolitics.com after the veto came through.