Optometry bill survives burst of opposition, now in governor's hands

02/18/2011 05:04 PM

FRANKFORT — Despite persistent objections and procedural questioning, legislation allowing optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures that had been the domain of ophthalmologists passed the state House on Friday, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 110 passed the House 81-to-14.

The bill would allow optometrists, commonly referred to as eye doctors, to perform more duties beyond performing exams, making diagnoses and fitting patients for glasses. It would allow them to perform some surgeries, including several with lasers.

The bill would not allow optometrists to perform Lasik or cataract surgeries. It was sponsored by Sen. Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester. And it passed the Senate 33-to-3 a week ago over objections from Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican.

Since the passage of the bill from the Senate, several issues have arisen, including articles by Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus that outlined how much money the optometrists political action committee had donated to legislators and whether or not the bill had traveled through the correct committee to the House floor.

Both issues were addressed in the House on Friday by Rep. David Watkins, a Democrat from Henderson and a physician.

In one of several floor speeches, Watkins asked House Speaker Greg Stumbo for a ruling on whether the bill should have passed through the House Health and Welfare committee instead of the Licensing and Occupations committee. Stumbo replied that both committees had jurisdiction and because the bill went through licensing in the Senate, the House committee on committees felt it was OK to send SB 110 through the same committee on the House side.

And Watkins also said he disputed that the bill was “bought and paid for,” just because the optometrists PAC had donated a lot of money to legislators.

But Watkins, one of two doctors elected to the House, took many opportunities to criticize the bill, calling it “terrible.”

Rep. Dennis Keene, a Democrat from Wilder, who served as the bill’s shepherd in the House, often rebutted his seat-mate’s arguments against the bill. He said he spoke up to address what he called “myths” about the optometrist bill.

For more than an hour, Watkins and Rep. Tom Riner, a Louisville Democrat, sought to drum up opposition to the bill. But after seeing nearly every amendment to the bill defeated, many of those in opposition threw up their hands, saying “the train has already left the station.”

After all of his amendments we’re defeated, Riner said the bill had to do “with ego,” and blamed both his colleagues and optometrists for having overconfidence.

Support for the bill held up. Rep. Danny Ford, a Republican from Mount Vernon, said the bill would help rural Kentucky with eye care and said optometrists were more than capable to handle the increase in responsibilities.

The 14 legislators who voted “no” to SB110 were: Reps. Bob DeWeese ®, Joe Fischer ®, Kelly Flood (D), Brent Housman ®, Jimmie Lee (D), Mike Nemes ®, Sannie Overly (D), Ruth Ann Palumbo (D), Tom Riner (D), Kevin Sinnette (D), Rita Smart (D), Watkins (D), Jim Wayne (D) and Susan Westrom (D).

Five other members were not present for the vote.

-Reporting and video production by Kenny Colston.


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