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Optometrists oppose SQ 793

Members of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians said State Question 793 is a blatant attempt by big business to get involved in what should be strictly medical practices.

On May 24, "Yes on 793" went to the Oklahoma Secretary of State to turn in petitions with the signatures of more than 250,000 Oklahomans. That office is the state agency that initiates the verification process to determine whether there is a sufficient number of signatures (in this case, 125,000) to qualify the proposal for a state question. Even if sufficient signatures are verified, the question won't appear on statewide ballots until the Nov. 6 general election.

But, Joel Robison, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP), said those who oppose the bill must get organized and start bringing accurate information to residents. Local optometrists will be part of that effort.

If approved by voters, the proposal would amend the State Constitution to specify that no law could infringe on the ability of optometrists or opticians to practice within a retail establishment, discriminate against those practitioners based on the location of their practice, or require external entrances for optometric offices within retail establishments. No law could infringe on a retail establishment's ability to sell optical goods and services. The State Legislature could restrict optometrists from performing surgeries within retail establishments, limit the number of locations at which they may practice, and require offices be in a separate room of retail establishments. Licensure, health and safety standards must be maintained. But, state law would not prohibit optometrists and opticians working in retail establishments from agreeing to limit their practice.

Dr. Richard Swales, a local optometrist, said the bill is another attempt by retailers to circumvent medical practitioners and their standards. Swales said that while past attempts have gone through the Legislature in the form of proposed legislation  bills that never made it out of committee  this latest effort is an attempt to amend the constitution to protect retailers. Swales and Robison said that is something they strongly oppose, as do most other optometrists in the state.

"Walmart has gone to the Legislature for years to change the law and been told no," Swales said. "This is an abuse of the process in Oklahoma."

Robison, who bluntly says the proposal is an attempt by Walmart to increase corporate earnings, argues that money is at the core of the proposal.

Supporters say the proposal merely gives Oklahoma patients the power to expand their eye care options, potentially saving hundreds of dollars on examinations, glasses and lenses because they could go to less expensive optometric services in large retail stores, just as residents in other states do. Tim Tippit, chairman of Yes on 793, has said the emphasis would continue to be on comprehensive examinations by certified medical personnel who have graduated from reputable optometry schools.

Robison, Swales and other Lawton doctors disputed those claims at an event held locally late last week to update doctors on the petition drive and give them talking points for patients, civic groups and others who may be interested in the state question.

The Lawton Constitution

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