Signatures submitted for Arkansas optometry referendum

Petitioners for the Arkansas Practice of Optometry Referendum reported submitting more than 84,000 signatures by the July 23 deadline to qualify a veto referendum on House Bill 1251 for a statewide vote in 2020. A total of 53,491 signatures need to be valid to qualify the measure for the ballot. The requirement is based on 6% of votes cast for the office of governor in the last gubernatorial election. Sponsors of the referendum petition effort hope voters will overturn HB 1251 and are advocating for a no vote on the referendum.
HB 1251 amended the definition of “practice of optometry” in state law to allow optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures including the following:
  • injections, excluding intravenous or intraocular injections;
  • incision and curettage of a chalazion;
  • removal and biopsy of skin lesions with low risk of malignancy, excluding lesions involving the lid margin or nasal to the puncta;
  • laser capsulotomy; and
  • laser trabeculoplasty.
Safe Surgery Arkansas is sponsoring the veto referendum petition seeking to overturn HB 1251. The group argues that the bill “jeopardizes patient safety and lowers the quality of surgical eye care in the state of Arkansas. This new law would allow optometrists— who are not medical doctors or trained surgeons— to perform delicate surgery on the eye and surrounding tissues using scalpels, lasers, and needles. HB 1251 removes … critical patient safeguard[s] by granting optometrists broad surgical privileges to operate on the eyes while bypassing these critical training requirements.”
Arkansans for Healthy Eyes is leading the campaign in opposition to the veto referendum effort and in support of HB 1251. The group is advocating for a yes vote on the referendum. Arkansas for Healthy Eyes argued that the bill “gives Arkansas patients better access to quality care by allowing optometrists to perform more of the procedures we are absolutely qualified to safely perform… For some patients, especially in rural parts of the state, being able to receive enhanced care from their optometrist, instead of having to go through the wait, travel, and added cost of a specialist visit, may mean the difference between getting a needed procedure, or going without.”
HB 1251 was approved in the House on March 6, 2019, in a vote of 70-19. Among Democratic representatives, eight voted against, 13 voted in favor, and three were absent or did not vote. Among Republican representatives, 11 voted against, 57 voted in favor, eight were absent or did not vote for or against the bill. The bill was approved in the Senate on March 20, 2019, in a vote of 25-8. Among Democratic senators, three voted against, five voted in favor, and one was absent or did not vote. Among Republican Senators, five voted against, 20 voted in favor, and one was absent or did not vote.
Since the first in 1934, 10 veto referendum measures have appeared on the ballot in Arkansas. The most recent referendum was on the ballot in 2004. In all but one case, the referendum efforts resulted in the targeted law being repealed or overturned.
Nationwide since the first in 1906, 521 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 340 (65.3 percent) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California (48). The states that allowed for veto referendums but had the least number of them were Wyoming (1), Nevada (2), and New Mexico (3).