Oklahoma Retail Group Wins State Court’s OK to Move Ahead With Optometry Ballot Initiative


OKLAHOMA CITY—A question around whether retail locations are appropriate and safe venues for practicing optometry in Oklahoma may end up being decided by voters later this year. The state’s Supreme Court ruled last week that a petition seeking to place this question on the state ballot in November does meet the requirements of Oklahoma’s constitution and can move forward. In Oklahoma, existing state law prohibits optometry practices from certain retail venues, according to the Supreme Court’s decision

That decision stated, in part: “Current Oklahoma law prohibits any optometrist or optician from practicing their profession within a retail mercantile establishment. The purpose of the prohibition is to ‘establish a minimum standard of sanitation, hygiene and professional surroundings.’ To this end, no optometrist may practice his or her profession within a room or part of a room occupied by a wholesale or retail mercantile establishment.”

A retail group, the Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association, however, has been working to change the Oklahoma law and, as part of this effort, proposed placing a question about retail optometry on the ballot. Walmart is among the members of this organization, according to the retail association’s website.

The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP), which supports the current state law, has sought to block the retail group’s efforts and challenged its ballot-question petition in state court last year. The defendants in the lawsuit included Kiley Raper, chief executive officer of the retail merchants group.

The court’s decision last week allows proponents of the retail merchants’ position to begin a statewide signature-collecting process that could ultimately lead to their proposal being placed on the November ballot.

According to the Supreme Court decision, the Oklahoma retail group’s proposal would amend the state constitution by adding a new section, which would “merge the rights and restrictions placed on optometrists and opticians, while eliminating restraints on the ability to practice their professions in retail mercantile establishments.” The court also noted that the OAOP filed a suit against the retail group “contesting the validity of the initiative petition as unconstitutional logrolling in violation of the general subject requirement mandated in Oklahoma.”

“Logrolling,” in the legislative sense in Oklahoma, is the attempt to combine more than one general subject within a proposed amendment, according to the court. In its decision last week, the court concluded that the “proposed amendment embraces one general subject—the provision of optical care services within retail mercantile establishments—and therefore complies with Article 24, Section 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution. In so holding, the proponents of the petition may proceed with the remaining statutory requirements.”

As a result of this ruling, the retail association can begin collecting signatures of Oklahoma residents who support this proposed change and want to see the question on the election ballot in November. The retail group has a 90-day window in which to collect the required number of signatures, according to OAOP chief executive officer Joel Robison, who spoke to VMAIL last week.

Despite the setback in court, however, OAOP expects to aggressively challenge the retail group’s effort to place the issue on the ballot.