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Massage Today
October, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 10

The Labors of Legislation

Pennsylvania, New Jersey Bills Raise Different Issues

By Editorial Staff

Pennsylvania and New Jersey are two of several states in which massage therapists are seeing legislation introduced regarding licensure and certification.

As we go to press, New Jersey Assembly Bill A4034 has been approved in committee, while Pennsylvania's House Bill 1643 has been sent to the House Committee on Professional Licensure.

New Jersey - A4034

New Jersey State Assemblymen Peter Barnes and Patrick Diegnan (both D-Middlesex) and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood), proposed the bill, which would require certification for anyone performing "massage, bodywork or somatic therapy services." It is believed that this bill will be amended on the floor of the Assembly and then voted on as early as November 2005, when the New Jersey legislature returns from its recess. If the bill is not voted on by both houses by the end of the year, it will be reintroduced in 2006.

The bill stems from a title act approved by the New Jersey legislature in 1999 for massage, bodywork and somatic therapists. The act provided for optional certification, meaning no one was prohibited from practicing; it was just an issue of whether someone wanted to use a specific professional title affiliated with massage and bodywork, such as "Certified Massage Therapist." The act does prohibit state-certified therapists from providing treatment: "Massage, bodywork and somatic therapies do not include the diagnosis or treatment of illness, disease, impairment or disability."

As with most cases of licensure/regulation, there are potential concerns with A4034. In its current form, the bill would make existing voluntary state certification mandatory. Thus, the limited scope of practice in the title act would become the scope of practice for therapists.

Specifically, in the current draft of the New Jersey bill, anyone practicing bodywork who is not state certified is considered to be guilty of prostitution. The following text is taken directly from A4034: "Proof that any premises, place or resort which holds itself out as rendering massage, bodywork or somatic therapy services employs or utilizes a person who is not certified to render these services as required by section 1 of P.L. c. shall give rise to a permissive inference that the premises, place or resort was conducted or maintained as a house of prostitution."

According to the legislative update on the AMTA-NJ chapter's Web site, members are informed that "it is important for AMTA-NJ Chapter Members to remember the State Certification Law is a Title Protection Law, and therefore Professionals choosing to use any of the Titles identified in the Law are obliged to become State Certified. Consequently, for Practitioners in our profession who offer services which are not becoming State Certified this could potentially create a challenge should the State Examining Committee interpret that they fall under the NJ Title Act for Massage Therapy, Bodywork or Somatic Therapies. It is the hope of the leadership of the AMTA that our members and all Professionals in the State will want to become State Certified and be proud to hold their title as defined by our law."

New Jersey has been accepting applications for state certification since November 2004, and as of August 2005, only 60 therapists have been officially state certified, and 170 applications are pending. The current timeline for completing the certification process is at least three months.

Rena Margulis, NCTMB, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), a practitioner in Haddenfield, N.J., notes several potential problems with the latest version of A4034. (Under the current title act, the New Jersey Massage, Bodywork and Somatic Therapy Examining Committee, which is within the N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs, is responsible for certifying massage therapists who wish to utilize titles affiliated with massage and bodywork in a professional capacity.)

According to Margulis, A4034 "allows state-licensed, state-certified or state-registered professionals to perform massage and bodywork if it is within their scope of practice. But no one else. In an obvious error, there is no exception for students performing massage in a clinic or for anyone else receiving training in touch, even medical students. There is no exception for out-of-state continuing education instructors or for bodywork offered without reimbursement. Under A4034, anyone who performs bodywork without state certification faces the 'permissive inference' that he or she is operating a 'house of prostitution.'"

Margulis urges massage therapists in other states to watch this debate carefully, as there are fears other legislative bodies could make similar decisions in other states - making a title act a practice act with very little warning. "Compare the differences between the New Jersey statue and the New Jersey regulations. In many cases, what legislators did not prohibit, the regulations did. Many New Jersey therapists who backed the title act several years ago are now very, very, sorry they did," Margulis said.

For more information about A4034, visit www.njleg.state.nj.us.

Pennsylvania - HB 1643

Meanwhile, in neighboring Pennsylvania, House Bill 1643 finally has been sent to committee and is awaiting a vote by both houses as of press time. Currently, 66 state representatives have signed on in support of this bill and the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA-PA) has distributed 14,000 cards across the state, requesting that HB 1643 be moved from committee to the House for a vote.

However, as with the New Jersey legislation, this bill has its critics - albeit in this case (as far as we can tell), from outside the massage profession. In its most recent legislative update, the AMTA-PA said physical therapists in Pennsylvania have publicly stated they are against the bill. The attorney for the Pennsylvania Physical Therapists Association, F. Stephenson Matthew, was quoted in the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal as saying, "The group believes massage therapists are not qualified to treat disabilities or impairments, that licensure is neither necessary nor appropriate and that it has concerns with the grandfathering of existing massage therapists." However, after repeated requests, the PPTA leadership has yet to contact the Pennsylvania Chapter to discuss their issues with the bill.

Despite this criticism, in the same legislative update, Pennsylvania Chapter President, Nancy Porambo, MS, NCTMB, offered her support of the bill: "[The bill] sets parameters from which we can build higher standards for the future of the profession of massage therapy, a position every profession seeking licensure had to take in the beginning of their growth."

She also said: "We are proud to state that many of our schools have redesigned their massage therapy programs to become an associate degree program. Many other programs across the state are above the proposed 600 hour minimum and our standards in the bill are currently higher than the national average of 500 hours."

To track the status of HB 1643, visit the AMTA Pennsylvania Chapter Web site at www.amtapa.org/gov/updates.php.

References

 

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