The Chatter: Optometrist bill becomes law; And how likely is a walk-out in Frankfort?

02/24/2011 06:26 PM

Gov. Steve Beshear on Thursday signed the bill that would allow optometrists to perform certain surgeries that had been reserved only for ophthalmologists with medical degrees.

That came after an intense lobbying effort by the optometrist — the eye doctors who before Senate Bill 110 became law were limited to examining eyes, diagnosing problems and prescribing corrective lenses.

The optometrists, through the Kentucky Optometric Association, added 14 new lobbyists this year to bring their total to 18, according to the latest statistics kept by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission. Thirteen of those lobbyists started Feb. 1 — the week before Senate Bill 110 was introduced.

The bill passed the Senate Feb. 11 by a 33-3 vote, then the House on the following Friday 81-14.

Ophthalmologists, whose ranks include U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, opposed the bill. The Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians, who represent the ophthalmologists added seven new lobbyists on Feb. 10 to bring its lobbying force up to 10, according to the ethics commission report.

The Kentucky Enquirer’s Amanda Van Benschoten wrote an insightful piece over the weekend about how the lobbying process — and the efforts surrounding Senate Bill 110 — work.

Optometrists and their political action committee also had contributed more than $400,000 to public officials’ campaign committees, as the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus first reported last week. That included more than $70,000 to Beshear’s re-election campaign.

Beshear issued a statement Thursday saying he met with “many interested parties” and decided to sign it into law after making sure it wouldn’t affect the budget of Medicaid — the government program that provides health care to poor and disabled Kentuckians.

“In order to ensure the highest degree of oversight, I will be meeting with the Board of Optometric Examiners to make sure that providers of these services undergo extensive training,” Beshear said. “I believe this new law will mean more Kentuckians can get the eye care they need.”

How likely is a legislative walk-off in Frankfort?

With union-related proposals in Wisconsin and Indiana prompting Democratic lawmakers to flee those states as a way to block votes, it begs the question whether similar tactics could be used in Kentucky.

The answer is probably not, lawmakers said.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, noted that it only takes 16 votes to pass a bill in the Senate, and the Republican majority caucus has 23 members.

In the House, a simple majority of 51 constitutes a quorum. House Democrats have 58 members. So it would take a bi-partisan walk-out to stall proceedings in either chamber.

Plus, Buford said fleeing the state likely would have political ramifications:

Kentucky lawmakers have found other ways to protest actions of the majority — mostly through amendments.

As Deborah Yetter pointed out in piece this week in the Courier-Journal, several House Republicans have filed amendments related to abortion onto a series of bills.

The amendments require counseling about the risks of abortion for women considering the procedure. And the lawmakers — Reps. Tim Moore of Elizabethtown, David Floyd of Bardstown and Joe Fischer of Fort Thomas — say they’ve filed the amendments to bring the issue up on the House floor.

- Compiled by Ryan Alessi


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