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CALIFORNIA | PREVIEW | CAPITOL MATTERS

In the Eyeglasses of the Beholder

June 20, 1997|Legi-Tech News Service

Welfare reform. Anti-crime initiatives. Partisan politics. These are some of the political issues that make for good headlines and keep state capital reporters busy.

But the majority of lawmakers' time is dominated by the hundreds of special-interest bills that work their way through the Legislature each session, greased along by millions of dollars in campaign contributions and in the process employing armies of lobbyists and public relations personnel.

A textbook example unfolding at the Capitol is the battle between optometrists and opticians. Optometrists, who are licensed to perform eye exams, have become increasingly alarmed at the growing number of national discount chains and other eyeglass retailers that have set up shop in the state and are cutting into their eyeglass sales.

The California Optometric Assn. is sponsoring legislation, AB 255 by Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis), that would prevent eyeglass sellers from filling prescriptions beyond the expiration dates optometrists put on them.

Opticians, who make and sell eyeglasses, have joined with consumer groups in opposing the bill. They argue that the legislation would require customers who have damaged their glasses or who simply want a new look to schedule unnecessary eye exams because of the arbitrary expiration dates that optometrists could put on their prescriptions. Further, because many health-maintenance organization plans will pay for eye exams only once a year, any subsequent exams would have to come out of a customer's own pocket. Optometrists counter that the legislation is necessary to prevent consumers' being sold eyeglasses that fail to meet their needs.

Nationally, the optical industry is big business, with estimated annual sales of $14 billion. In California, about 17 million people wear glasses. The Los Angeles and Long Beach areas account for the majority of eyeglass sales in the state, according to industry reports.

At the Capitol, the California Optometric Assn. is no slouch, contributing more than $600,000 to politicians in 1995-96. Overall for those years, the association was among the top 70 political contributors in the state. AB 255 easily passed the Assembly floor last month on a 54-9 vote. The bill awaits its first hearing in the Senate.

HOT BILLS

* Outdoor Advertising

Bottom line: The state's Department of Transportation wants to crack down on advertising signs posted without permits along state highways. An owner would have to pay a fine equal to the state's cost for removing the sign.

Chances: The California Assn. of Outdoor Advertising supports the bill, and no groups are on record in opposition. The bill passed the Assembly on a 72-1 vote and passed its first test in the Senate, clearing the Senate Transportation Committee on an 8-1 vote this week.

Next step: Senate Appropriations Committee hearing; no date scheduled.

Details: AB 1259 author Dick Ackerman (R-Fullerton) can be reached at (916) 445-7448.

* Viatical Settlements

Bottom line: Some patients who learn that they are terminally ill want to cash in their life insurance policies by selling them to third-party brokers or companies for a portion of their value. But a provision in existing state law prevents those with group life insurance policies from selling the policies without permission from the insurer. This bill would let policyholders sell their policies to any broker of their choice.

Chances: The insurance industry dropped opposition to this bill, sponsored by AIDS Project Los Angeles, after the author removed a provision that would have banned insurers' denying payment of life insurance benefits if the holder commits suicide within two years of converting from being covered by a group policy to one individually held. The bill passed the Assembly on a 72-2 vote.

Next step: Senate Committee on Insurance; no date scheduled.

Details: AB 489 author Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) can be reached at (916) 445-7874.

Capitol Matters comments may be sent by e-mail to cyndia.zwahlen@latimes.com

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