Officials Certify Signatures for Referendum on Eye Law

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LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas officials on Friday approved thousands of signatures submitted for a referendum on a law expanding the procedures optometrists can perform.

Secretary of State John Thurston told representatives of the referendum campaign they had submitted 64,027 valid signatures, surpassing the 53,491 required to qualify for the November ballot.

“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 for Safe Surgery Arkansas, which backs the referendum.

The referendum asks voters to overturn a law allowing optometrists to perform several procedures that previously only ophthalmologists could perform, including injections around the eye, the removal of lesions from the eyelids and certain laser eye surgeries.

The law’s supporters say optometrists are already trained to perform the procedures but were being forced to refer patients elsewhere. It has drawn heavy opposition from ophthalmologists who say the change puts patients at risk.

Thurston approved the measure after the state Supreme Court in December ordered his office to review thousands of signatures submitted. A Pulaski County judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by the referendum’s opponents seeking to keep it off the ballot.

“Today’s certification from the Secretary of State only addresses the petition signatures,” said Vicki Farmer, chairperson for the Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, which opposes the referendum. “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. 

“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.”

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