Today the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the Arkansas Secretary of State must continue to count the ballot referendum signatures that were collected earlier this year to place Act 579 (optometric surgery) on next year’s ballot. The lawsuit, brought by Safe Surgery Arkansas, challenged the Secretary of State’s decision to not count nearly 60,000 of the 88,000 signatures gathered over the summer to place the referendum on the ballot, giving voters the opportunity to overturn the Optometry Eye Surgery Bill. Act 579 of 2019 would allow optometrists (non-medical doctors) to perform certain surgeries on the eyes, without them having to attend medical school or complete years of surgical residency training.
The Secretary of State’s decision to not count the signatures was based on Act 376 of 2019, which added new requirements to getting a referendum on the election ballot. Safe Surgery Arkansas challenged the validity of the emergency clause in Act 376, and the Supreme Court agreed that the statute did not state what “emergency” existed.
The Arkansas Medical Society, Arkansas Ophthalmological Society, and the Safe Surgery Coalition is pleased with the ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court and we are extremely confident that there are enough signatures for the ballot initiative to be in front of voters in next year’s General Election. Polling done during the 2019 legislative session showed a large majority of the public supports our position that only residency-trained ophthalmologists, with a medical school background, should be performing surgery on the eyes.