OKLAHOMA CITY — Although voters rejected the idea at the polls last fall, a bill moving through the Legislature would let big box stores open eye care clinics inside.
The Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee on Thursday passed Senate Bill 902 by Senate Majority Floor Leader Kim David, R-Porter. The vote was 6-2.
In November, voters narrowly rejected State Question 793, an initiative petition financed largely by Walmart to let eye doctors practice in big box stores.
It was a constitutional amendment, which meant any changes would have required another vote of the people.
The state question was opposed by the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, which said it would reduce the quality of care — something supporters disputed.
Supporters of the measure said it would reduce costs and increase access to care, especially in rural areas.
Both sides flooded the airwaves with commercials.
David said her measure is similar to the failed state question, but with some differences.
The measure would not allow for the corporate hiring of eye doctors.
“It would have to be an independent optometrist who wants to open a business in Walmart,” she said.
It also is a statutory change, not a constitutional change.
Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, said one of the reasons the state question failed was because it was a constitutional amendment. Leewright chairs the Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee.
The measure also contains a slow phase-in on the number of stores that can open optometry practices each year, said Gwendolyn Caldwell, a lobbyist and representative from Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom, of which Walmart is a member.
Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom gathered the signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
The organization is considering another initiative petition, she said.
“We are looking at that option very, very seriously,” Caldwell said.
She said supporters are working to address the objections about SQ 793 in the Senate measure.
“It is the first time in several years we have even gotten a hearing on this bill in the Capitol,” Caldwell said.
Joel Robison is executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians.
“We are opposed to Senate Bill 902 as it is currently written,” he said. “It is Walmart’s bill.”
He said his organization had no input into the measure.
“Walmart has told us that if they don’t find some agreement during this legislative session, they will run another state question next year in 2020,” Robison said. “So, Walmart is trying to use their ability to spend millions in campaign expenditures to get their way.”
David said her goal is to get all the parties to come to an agreement on legislation that will be better than a state question that could go on the ballot.