Arkansas group seeks 2020 referendum on bill allowing optometrists to perform surgical procedures
In other ballot measure news, an Arkansas group—Safe Surgery Arkansas—submitted more than 84,000 signatures in support of a veto referendum in 2020 regarding HB1251, a bill that allows optometrists to perform surgical procedures.
Petitioners were required to submit 53,491 signatures—6% of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election—by July 23 to qualify the veto referendum for the ballot.
Safe Surgery Arkansas seeks to overturn HB 1251 and are advocating for a ‘no’ vote on the referendum. HB 1251 amended the definition of “practice of optometry” in Arkansas law to allow optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures, such as injections, removal and biopsy of skin lesions with low risk of malignancy, and specific laser procedures that are sometimes required after cataract surgery or are related to the treatment of glaucoma.
The state House approved HB 1251 by a vote of 70-19. Fifty-seven Republicans joined 13 Democrats in approving the measure and 11 Republicans and eight Democrats voted against. The state Senate passed the bill 25-8, with 20 Republicans joining five Democrats in favor and five Republicans joining three Democrats in opposition.
Safe Surgery Arkansas states on its website 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.”
Arkansans for Healthy Eyes is leading the opposition to the veto referendum effort and advocating for a ‘yes’ vote. A representative from the group said 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.”
Since the state’s first veto referendum in 1934, 10 such measures have appeared on the ballot in Arkansas. The most recent referendum was decided by voters in 2004. In all but one instance, the referendum efforts resulted in the targeted law being repealed or overturned.
Nationwide, 521 veto referendums have appeared on the ballot in 23 states since the first veto referendum in 1906. Voters have repealed 340—or 65.3 percent—of the targeted laws.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 fewest number of them were Wyoming (1), Nevada (2), and New Mexico (3).