The Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, Ardmore Young Professionals and the Greater Ardmore Leadership Alumni hosted a community forum Tuesday to inform voters about the state questions that will be on the November 6 general election ballot.
“We felt it was very important that we provide non-partisan information and hear from both sides of these questions, so next Tuesday as you go to the ballot box, you can make an informed decision,” Mita Bates, president and CEO of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, said.
Sara Donaho Jones, with Valero, and Joe Hill, with the Chickasaw Nation, served as moderators for the forum.
Attendees also received packets with the pros and cons of each question along with a sample ballot with the full text as it will appear on the ballot.
For State Question 793, experts were asked to speak for each side of the issue. “I say experts because these are people who are very familiar with the issues that are going to speak either for the proposal or in opposition,” Bates said.
Jones introduced the question, which would allow traditional retailers to offer eyeglasses and contact lenses, and does away with restrictions on location of optometric practice and where eyewear can be sold. Current state statutes prohibit optometric practice inside retail stores.
George Jamerson , campaign manager for the Yes on 793 campaign, said Oklahomans do not currently enjoy the same access to low-cost eye care that others do in 47 other states.
“This prohibitive measure is just another law, along with a plethora of other laws in Oklahoma, that stymies Oklahoma’s economic potential and creates a protectionist law and a monopoly that helps one group so that an outside market cannot get in.”
Jamerson said this negatively impacts businesses in Oklahoma as some leave Oklahoma for retail eye care models in surrounding states.
“It comes down to the consumer,” Jamerson said. “The consumer is the one who will be financially burdened by this.” Jamerson said those on fixed incomes would either be stuck paying ‘high prices’ or not get eye care at all.
Jamerson said the biggest issue is consumer need.
“Everyone should have the option to go to a retail establishment if they want to,” Jamerson said.  “At the end of the day, 793 is about giving Oklahomans the ability to choose where they want to go for eye care.” Jamerson said those paying out of pocket look to retail stores for lower costs. Jamerson said other benefits would include expanded hours of operation, including weekend hours.
“An optometrist is an optometrist is an optometrist,” Jamerson said. “The state requires licensing. They require health and safety standards. They have the same schooling. They have the same standards of care. They’re doing the same exams... the only thing they wouldn’t be doing is laser surgery.”
Jamerson said the proponents of the measure want residents’ business to stay in the state.
For the opposition of SQ793, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians Joel Robison said the OAOP represents about 450 optometrists across the state. “
We’re very proud of the care that is given in their offices all across the state,” Robison said. “This is on its face an attempt by a giant, out-of-state corporation, Walmart, to use our state’s constitution. This is a constitutional change for one purpose. That is to generate more revenue for that giant, out-of-state corporation, Walmart.”
Robison said nothing currently prevents Walmart from selling low-cost eyewear today.
“They just have to follow the same laws that all the other optometrists have followed for years,” Robison said. “They don’t want to do that.” Robison said Oklahoma would be the only state in the country that would include specific language in the state’s constitution that would allow a retailer to limit a doctor’s practice.
“We believe that it’s a fact that there are many ways to access eyecare today in Oklahoma,” Robison said. “If low cost is the important thing, there are all sorts of retail offerings like Vision Works, Eyemart Express, Eyemasters — where you can get low-cost eyewear. You can go online and get low-cost eyewear.”
Robison said the real issue is lowering the quality of eye care given to Oklahomans.
“The retailer could direct the optometrist how to treat patients — to limit their practice,” Robison said. “That’s why we’re opposed to this question. It doesn’t have anything to do with cheap eyewear. It doesn’t have anything to do with access. What Walmart is attempting to do here is to change the regulations so that eye doctors in their stores will not have to provide the same high standard of care that is currently required of optometrists in all of Oklahoma.”
Robison said that, currently, the Board of Examiners for the state outlines requirements that must be met by each eye exam.
“Optometrists can detect diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease by looking at the back of your eye,” Robison said, adding that if the intent was low-cost retail eyecare, the clause regarding limiting a doctor’s practice would not have been included in the verbiage of the measure.
“If it were just about putting an optometrist in a Walmart store... our association wouldn’t be as engaged and active as we are about this,” Robison said. “The reason we are, is that Oklahoma optometry leads the nation. Our scope of practice is the highest. We have one of the best optometry schools in Talequah. We lead the nation. How many times in Oklahoma can we say that we lead the nation in something good?”
Robison said proponents for the measure were trying to lower the state’s standard of care.
“We believe there will be illness missed with dire circumstances,” Robison said. “They want to put an optometrist between the frozen food aisle and the tire aisle... so while your glasses are being fixed, go ahead and feel free to shop.”
The full text of the state question appears on a sample ballot available at elections.ok.gov.