House scheduled to vote on Ehrlich vetoes today

Dispute over eye drops caused last override in 1989

General Assembly

January 20, 2004|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

The Democrat-controlled House of Delegates is scheduled to vote today on the override of several of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s vetoes, an action that follows similar votes taken last week by the state Senate that the governor's Republican allies described as a "slap in the face."

The last time the legislature overturned a governor's veto, in 1989, it was more like a punch in the eye to then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The spark of the constitutional clash? A bill that would allow optometrists to administer eye drops.

The so-called "eye-drop bill" made a spectacle of the Maryland legislature as lobbyists for optometrists were pitted against those representing ophthalmologists.

For 11 years, lobbyists representing optometrists, who diagnose vision problems, had fought for the right to administer drops, arguing that the diagnostic tool would help them better examine the interiors of a patient's eyes and detect disease.

But lobbyists for ophthalmologists, medical doctors qualified to perform eye surgery and prescribe drugs, fought the move, claiming their colleagues in eye care were not properly trained to dispense the drops or treat potential adverse reactions caused by them.

At the time, Maryland was the only state in the union where optometrists were prohibited from dilation-by-drop due to a 1914 state law that governed the practice of optometry.

The General Assembly sided with the optometrists in 1988, but Governor Schaefer, now state comptroller, vetoed the bill, believing that only a medical doctor should dole out drops. Lawmakers overrode the veto the next year.

Schaefer said last week that he wasn't angry that the legislature reversed his decision.

"I wasn't mad, which is very unusual for me," Schaefer said. "I didn't mind because both sides were right."

But, he added: "It's not nice to override a governor."

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