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The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state must count thousands of signatures that were submitted in favor of holding a referendum on a new law expanding the procedures optometrists can perform.

In a 4-3 ruling, justices said election officials incorrectly applied new ballot measure restrictions when they refused to review the signatures submitted by referendum supporters.

The new law allows optometrists to perform several procedures that previously only ophthalmologists could perform, including injections around the eye, the removal of lesions from the eyelids and certain laser eye surgeries. The law's supporters say optometrists are already trained to perform the procedures but were being forced to refer patients elsewhere. It has drawn heavy opposition from ophthalmologists who say the change puts patients at risk.

The secretary of state's office in August said most of the signatures submitted for the referendum weren't counted since canvassers didn't file required paperwork. But the court ruled that the requirement wasn't in effect at the time the signatures were gathered.


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