New Bill Would Undermine Statewide Vote To Put Eye Doctors In Stores
OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill, backed by one of the largest retailers in the world, with the potential to undermine the will of Oklahoma voters is making its way through the state legislature.
Senate Bill 902 would allow optometrists to work out of big box stores like Walmart or Target. If passed it would reverse the recent failure of State Question 793, which was narrowly defeated last November. Oklahoma is still one of three states which does not allow optometrists to operate in large retail stores.
The bill, like the state question, is heavily funded by Walmart and according to local eye doctors the retail giant has not been shy about its involvement.
“They let us know that for a fact we've had meetings with them,” Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Ophthalmological Physicians said.
The OAOP was one of the main opponents of SQ793.
“This is a giant out of state corporation, maybe the largest corporation or one of the largest corporations known to man, in the history of mankind that got told no by the people of Oklahoma. They don't like to be told no,” Robison said.
Walmart and its political action committee, Wal*Pac was one of the principal donors of the original campaign. According to campaign finance records, the retailer also $4500 to the bill’s author’s, Republican Senator Kim David (R-Tulsa), 2018 campaign.
Her co-author, Republican Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) also getting donations from organizations with big name donors such as Koch Industries, which recently invested in an optical start up called Visbly and donated $2500 to the Martinez campaign. The Representative also received a $500 donation from the Oklahoma Optometry PAC.
State optometrists expected another round in the fight to get eye doctors in retail stores. Robison said he believed Walmart would continue to use its considerable wealth to continue to lobby lawmakers, he just wasn’t expecting a challenge to come so soon after the November defeat. He also voiced disappointment lawmakers would attempt an end run after a stateside vote.
“Any time the people of Oklahoma vote that that should be the message for the lawmakers that should be the final word,” he said.
“The whole thing is a vehicle to work toward a compromise,” Sen. David said refuting concerns of subverted votes. She noted the title had been stricken from the bill which prevents it from becoming law until the title is replaced. She said the goal is “trying to keep everybody at the table.”
Local eye doctors, however, maintain allowing optometrists to operate in big box stores will decrease the quality of care and could open independent doctors to corporate scrutiny or control. In a statement, Walmart spokesperson Anne Hatfield, said some of those fears are addressed in the bill that weren’t addressed in the state question.
“This legislation will lead to more access to eye care and address issues voters had with the ballot language including; making this a statutory change versus constitutional, banning the corporate hiring of eye doctors and gradually allowing retailers to phase in optical stores in Oklahoma,” Hatfield said.
Robison too said he would like to reach a compromise, as long as quality of care wasn’t impacted.
SB902 is out of committee and heading to the Senate floor.