Jerry Kopel

By Jerry Kopel

This year's Sunset reviews of licensed occupations are so boring legislators deserve medals for reading them, with one exception, the review of optometrists. The 2002 legislature may see optometrists and ophthalmologists in the same drug battle they have fought for decades.

There are three "o's" that deal with "i's". Opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses. They have the best turf because their "title" is protected by the Consumer Protection Act, giving them a Colorado "cloak of credibility" without state regulation. Opticians get certificates of competence from the American Board of Opticianry to use the term "optician". But incompetence can only be resolved by suing for damages. Revocation depends on a distant national board.

Optometrists are licensed and regulated by Colorado. They examine, measure and treat vision problems with corrective lenses and some, thanks to tough past victories, can diagnose certain eye diseases and administer some drugs. Ophthalmologists are physicians. They diagnose and treat diseases of the eye through medications or surgery and can also do anything done by an optometrist or optician.

The turf battle is between optometrists and ophthalmologists. Really it's between their lobbyists. Money and prestige is involved. Optometrists can't prescribe antiviral (to treat Herpes of the eye) medications. The Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) report would let them prescribe. And some "high-level" optometrists would be able to treat anterior uveitis (damage to the frontal eye with long term complications) and glaucoma without consulting a physician.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Sunset. The term now has national meaning. Some in Congress concerned by far-reaching implications of the recent anti-terrorism act managed to gain one possible brake, labeled by the media as a four year "Sunset" provision.

Twenty-five years ago, "Sunset" meant "the disappearance of the sun below the western horizon at the end of day, the glow of light or display of color in the sky at that time, or the decline of life."

In 1975 Craig Barnes of Colorado Common Cause used the term to define a potential end to regulation of licensed occupations after review as to whether licensing should continue. In 1976, Colorado was the first state to adopt a Sunset law for licensed occupations. A majority of other states followed suit and a majority have kept their sunset laws.

The biggest gain Sunset has made in 25 years was not in wiping out licensing of occupations, although a lot of licensing did end. The biggest gain was in forced oversight of how a monopoly occupation behaves towards allowing new members, adding more consumers to regulatory boards and in disciplining the bad eggs.

Repeals of Colorado licenses range from landscape architects to abstractors, shorthand reporters to morticians, debt management offices to employment agencies. But consumer protections against those engaged in trades formerly licensed were retained.

One example of oversight: Barber and cosmetology schools were transferred to occupational school control, automatic inspections of shops became inspections only following complaints, and the Barber and Cosmetology board became an advisory board.

In 1985, Colorado also adopted a Sunrise review to decide whether to regulate previously unregulated occupations. Here are some of the occupations that were turned down and never licensed by the state, although a few now have title protection:

Modeling agencies, private investigators, commercial health and fitness counselors, community living specialists, creative arts therapists, repossessors, locksmiths, security guards, financial planners, radon service providers, hemodialysis technicians, consumer electronic service technicians, naturopathic physicians, dieticians, occupational therapists and HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration technicians).

This year DORA objected to licensing five new applications; Dieticians, industrial hygienists, geologists, home inspectors, and mortgage brokers. But unless Gov. Bill Owens puts his weight and veto behind DORA's Sunrise reports, lobbyists for those applicants will win. And governor, it doesn't do any good to not sign a bill passed by the legislature. It still becomes a law.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado legislature and was chief sponsor of the Sunset and Sunrise Laws.)

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