Black's vision care program is likely done

Former House Speaker Jim Black's controversial program to help children get screened for vision problems appears to be going out with a whimper.

The state budget proposals of the House and Gov. Mike Easley would eliminate the remaining $500,000 in funding for the program. Easley's budget proposal said the program drew little use in the two years since its creation. That made it low-hanging fruit for budget cutters in a tight fiscal year.

The vision care program began as a mandate on parents to have their children seen by an optometrist before they entered kindergarten. The requirement caused an uproar after Black wrote it into the 2005 budget.

Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, was an optometrist, and his colleagues were a key source for political contributions. One of the scandals that eventually led to his downfall involved optometrists writing campaign contribution checks with the payee line blank so that Black and others could determine who should get them.

Black is serving a roughly five-year sentence in federal prison for taking money from chiropractors who wanted his help in passing favorable legislation. There, too, Black inserted a provision in the 2005 budget that required health insurers to treat chiropractors the same as family doctors when assessing co-payments.