Secretary of State says effort to undo eye surgery law short on signatures; appeal expected

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,004 views 

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office said that an effort to add a ballot referendum that would overturn a law expanding the scope of practice for optometrists has fallen short of the required signatures to qualify.

Secretary of State John Thurston said the organizers of the effort, Safe Surgery Arkansas, only submitted 23,953 valid signatures. It needed more than 53,491 valid signatures to qualify as an initiated act on the 2020 ballot. Thurston ruled in July that Safe Surgery Arkansas did not properly submit paperwork related to petition gatherers under a new law that sets requirements prior to signature collections. Subsequently, he disqualified some of the signatures turned in by the group.

The law in question allows optometrists to perform limited eye surgeries. The legislature approved the measure in the regular session earlier this year. Safe Surgery Arkansas represents the state’s ophthalmologists who opposed the new law and were pushing for the ballot referendum. A representative for the group said to expect a legal appeal of the Secretary of State’s decision.

“Today’s announcement by the Secretary of State is disappointing, but unfortunately it’s not surprising,” said attorney Alex Gray. “We expected this and are prepared to take court action so that the voices of more than 84,000 registered voters are heard. We completely disagree with Secretary Thurston’s interpretation of the Arkansas Constitution and state law, and we are confident the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the voters of Arkansas. This issue is too important for special interests to get in the way of the right of the people to vote for safer eye surgery.”

A group representing the state’s optometrists issued a reaction to today’s decision.

“We are pleased with today’s outcome,” said Vicki Farmer, chairperson of the Arkansans for Healthy Eyes Ballot Question Committee, the group organized to fight Safe Surgery Arkansas. Farmer is also the executive director of the Arkansas Optometrists Association.

“The real winners are Arkansas patients, who will have improved access to eye care under Act 579, and Arkansas voters, who can be assured with today’s rejection of more than 60,000 invalid signatures that special interest groups won’t be allowed to submit thousands of unlawfully solicited signatures and expect to unwind a duly enacted law in our state,” said Farmer. “We applaud the Secretary of State and his staff for their diligence in accurately applying the law and conducting a fair and thorough review.”