As expected, the Arkansas Supreme Court today disqualified a proposed referendum on a law that expanded eye surgery privileges for optometrists.

Ophthalmologists mounted a petition drive to place a repeal of the law on the ballot. Secretary of State John Thurston approved it.


But the optometrists challenged the proposal on several grounds. It won on the same ground on which the Supreme Court recently invalidated two proposed constitutional amendments. The paid canvassers in each case said they had “obtained” rather than “passed” a criminal background check  The distinction was made because the State Police, designated as the checking agency, could only certify state criminal backgrounds not federal ones

So the law stands. The referendum, Issue 6, might appear on some ballots but votes won’t count


Here’s the opinion.

It was a 6-1 decision, with Justice Jo Hart dissenting.


Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, the group backed by optometrists to preserve the law, commented:

“We are pleased the Court agrees with the Special Master’s findings that the group opposing Act 579 did NOT follow petition requirements and the measure does NOT qualify for the ballot,” said Vicki Farmer, chairperson for Arkansans for Healthy Eyes.  “Patients across Arkansas will now have improved access to quality eye care from the doctor of optometry they know and trust,” said Farmer.

Safe Surgery Arkansas, the ophthalmologist-backed group, responded

“An overwhelming majority of Arkansans agree that surgery should be performed by surgeons, and it’s a shame that voters will not have the opportunity to express themselves at the ballot on this critically important health issue,” said Laurie Barber, MD, chair of Safe Surgery Arkansas. “Despite today’s ruling, we are not at all finished fighting for patient safety. It’s too important, and it matters to too many Arkansans.”