Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over Arkansas Eye Surgery Referendum

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over Arkansas Eye Surgery Referendum

LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit trying to block from this year's ballot a referendum on a new law expanding the procedures that optometrists can perform.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen dismissed the lawsuit by Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, a group that was formed in opposition to the referendum effort. The lawsuit claimed the referendum wasn't approved under the correct process.

"We're still weighing our options moving forward," said Vicki Farmer, chairperson for Arkansans for Healthy Eyes. "The legal issues in this case are complex, but the underlying facts remain simple. The opposition group didn't follow the law — ANY law — in its effort to put this measure on the ballot."

Alex Gray, attorney for Safe Surgery Arkansas, which backs the referendum, said the judge's dismossal of the lawsuits shows that Arkansans for Healthy Eyes is "grasping at straws" to keep the referendum off the ballot.

"Almost 90 percent of Arkansas voters don't want non-medical doctors like optometrists performing eye surgeries," Gray said. "We will continue our fight to ensure the people's voice is heard."

The new law, Act 529 of 2019, allows 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.

The lawsuit was filed after the state Supreme Court said it wouldn't reconsider its decision that state election officials must count thousands of signatures submitted for the proposed referendum.

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