By Rep. Mike Sanders
Voters will be asked in November to decide the fate of State Question 793, which would amend the state constitution, opening the door for Oklahoma eye doctors and opticians to operate stores inside big-box retailers like Walmart, Target and Costco.
The measure was placed on the general election ballot after enough voter signatures were gathered by proponents of the measure through an initiative petition process.
Under current Oklahoma law, an optometrist cannot “render optometric care in any retail, mercantile establishment which sells merchandise to the general public...in which the majority of the establishments income is not derived from the sale of such prescription optical goods and materials.” To maintain a level of independence between an optometrist and a retail outlet, an eye clinic must have a physical barrier between it and a retail outlet as well as a separate entrance. This has been called a two-door policy and Oklahoma is said to be one of 16 states to operate using this two-door system.
If the state question were to pass, lawmakers would still have the ability to limit or ban surgery inside a retail store and limit the number of offices where an optometrist can practice. It also would let eye care professionals agree with a store to limit their scope of practice, but this point has been argued against by critics of the measure.
Both rural and urban optometrists have largely come out against this question, with some saying this would lead to substandard medical care for patients and create an unfair market advantage for large retailers. The big-box stores and supporters who favor the question argue this would modernize Oklahoma law and give customers more convenience and lower prices.
The language in the ballot title that voters will see reads: “This measure adds a new Section 3 to Article 20 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Under the new Section, no law shall infringe on optometrists' or opticians' ability to practice within a retail mercantile establishment, discriminate against optometrists or opticians based on the location of their practice, or require external entrances for optometric offices within retail mercantile establishments. No law shall infringe on retail mercantile establishments' ability to sell prescription optical goods and services. The Section allows the Legislature to restrict optometrists from performing surgeries within retail mercantile establishments, limit the number of locations at which an optometrist may practice, maintain optometric licensing requirements, require optometric offices to be in a separate room of a retail mercantile establishment, and impose health and safety standards. It does not prohibit optometrists and opticians from agreeing with retail mercantile establishments to limit their practice. Laws conflicting with this Section are void. The Section defines "laws," "optometrist," "optician," "optical goods and services," and "retail mercantile establishment."
Oklahoma voters in November will get to vote yes or no on this proposed question.
Meanwhile, if I can do anything to help you, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.