Politics & Government

Scores of new Ky. laws took effect Wednesday

FRANKFORT — Scores of new laws went into effect Wednesday in Kentucky, including one that allows optometrists to perform some medical procedures that previously had been reserved for ophthalmologists.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed about 100 bills into law earlier this year, most of which took effect Wednesday.

One of the most debated laws allows optometrists to perform some types of laser surgeries and to treat glaucoma and cataracts. Ophthalmologists had bitterly opposed its passage, but lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the move, insisting it was crucial to some of the state's medically underserved rural communities. While optometrists examine eyes, measure vision and prescribe eye glasses and contact lenses, ophthalmologists are specialists who deal with eye diseases and perform surgery.

"In many areas, there's no other person in the county who specializes in eyes besides the optometrist," said Darlene Eakin, executive director of the Kentucky Optometric Association. "This gives Kentuckians greater access to more eye-care services."

Eakin said only a third of Kentucky's 120 counties have ophthalmologists while most have optometrists.

Even with the law in effect, Eakin said, it will be a while before the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners credentials the first optometrist to do laser surgery. Regulations still are under development that will require optometrists to undergo additional training.

Other new laws affect a variety of fields, from health care to politics. One allows pharmacists to give flu shots to children ages 9-13. Another requires high schools to provide seniors with information about registering to vote. And another increases the maximum political contribution to school board candidates from $200 to $1,000.

The government now has an expanded reach under eminent domain to secure rights of way for carbon dioxide pipelines, a move that's intended to make it easier for Kentucky, which gets most of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, to deal with ever-increasing federal restrictions on emissions of greenhouse gases.

A change in judicial law allows people to recoup more money in small-claims courts. The new law allows people to collect up to $2,500 for successful small claims, up from the previous $1,500.