Opponents of a new state law expanding surgery privileges for optometrists have filed a legal challenge to Secretary of State John Thurston’s refusal to certify petitions calling for a voter referendum on the law.

Thurston applied a new law aimed at adding more hurdles for election petition canvassing. Specifically, he invoked a new requirement for pre-registration of paid canvassers. That led to the disqualification of more than 60,000 signatures of more than 80,000 submitted. About 53,000 signatures of registered voters were required to put the measure on the ballot in 2020.

Safe Surgery Arkansas, the ophthalmologist-backed committee that opposes the law, said in a lawsuit Tuesday that the new canvassing law had a faulty emergency clause and shouldn’t have been applied to their canvassing effort. It’s a technical argument that also includes a general constitutional challenge to legislative efforts to make petitioning so difficult that it effectively violates the constitution’s bar of legislative prohibition of petition circulation.

Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, the interest group supporting the new law, issued a statement in response to the legal filing:


“We are confident in the Secretary of State’s application of the law and rejection of the petition, which included tens of thousands of unlawfully solicited signatures,” said Vicki Farmer, chairwoman for Arkansans for Healthy Eyes Ballot Question Committee.  “We think the Court will affirm the Secretary of State’s action.  Meanwhile, we are excited for Arkansans to enjoy better access to eye care, as the state works to implement Act 579,” said Farmer.