Secretary of State John Thurston gave approval to a ballot initiative that could allow voters to overturn a legislative act that broadened the powers of state optometrists.
On Friday (Jan. 31), Thurston issued a certificate of sufficiency to Safe Surgery Arkansas for its act to amend the definition of the “practice of optometry.” Safe Surgery Arkansas represents the state’s ophthalmologists, who are seeking to reverse a law passed in the 2019 session that broadened the scope of practice for optometrists. That law, Act 579, permitted optometrists to perform limited eye surgeries.
“Voters can now rest assured they will have the opportunity to vote on whether to allow non-medical doctors to perform eye surgery this November, and the more than 64,000 Arkansans who signed the petition will have their voices heard,” said Alex Gray, an attorney representing Safe Surgery Arkansas.
Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, a group led by optometrists, has challenged the ballot initiative claiming that proper procedures for signature gathering were not followed, but a Pulaski County judge tossed that lawsuit earlier this week. Safe Surgery had challenged a previous determination by Thurston that its signatures were insufficient, but the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the ballot proposal could move forward.
“Today’s certification from the Secretary of State only addresses the petition signatures,” said Vicki Farmer, chairperson for the Arkansans for Healthy Eyes Ballot Question Committee. “This does nothing to change the fact the ballot title in this measure was never certified by the Attorney General, as required under pre-Act 376 law, and therefore, this cannot be a legally effective referendum for the ballot under that law or any Arkansas law.”
Farmer was alluding to another legal controversy in the case centered around a different state law passed in 2019 that altered the ballot petition process. Farmer’s group claims that Safe Surgery Arkansas did not follow proper steps in initially launching their signature collections, which was the crux of the lawsuit dismissed in Pulaski County Court earlier in the week.
“We are still weighing legal options and will take action at the appropriate time. Our main priority, as from the beginning, is to ensure Arkansans have the opportunity to benefit from better access to quality eye care under Act 579,” said Farmer.