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Massage Today
November, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 11

California Massage Bill Defeated

By Dixie Wall, Contributing Editor

Maneuvering through the legislative process can be a daunting task, and after almost three years of negotiating, advocating and waiting, it seems S.B.412 finally has been defeated. The goal of S.B.412 was to establish a voluntary, statewide certification program for California massage therapists.

If passed, the legislation would have reduced the many complications that continue to frustrate California massage therapists.

These complications primarily are caused by the inconsistencies within California's many different current local and county regulatory systems. Instead of getting a permit from every city and/or county one might massage in, the proposed bill essentially would have created a voluntary, uniform process to certify a massage therapist's "portability" to work anywhere within the state.

In the early stages, there were many obstacles to overcome in trying to simultaneously please the different massage communities. But in the end, there was consensus in order to stand on common ground. A big obstacle finally was resolved by the creation of two separate tiers: a 250-hour educational requirement with the title "massage practitioner," and a second tier requiring 500 hours of education and use of the title "massage therapist." The other amendment debate was a grandfathering education-hour requirement, which was resolved with 500 hours after 2012 and/or the choice to not be licensed at all and just practice under the jurisdiction of the local city or county ordinances. While the process might seem simple by definition, the bill would have been the most complicated of its type in the nation.

The last debate on the floor came to a standstill as the California Chiropractic Association's lobbyists opposed the definition of "massage," including passive joint movement. The CCA had eight lobbyists on the floor insisting that, without a prescription from a medical doctor, this would be extremely dangerous to the public. (See "A Far Stretch" in the April 2006 issue or click here for the online version). When push came to shove, it seems the CCA had just enough clout to kill the bill, despite efforts from strong voices in the legislature advocating for the massage community.

Beverly May, AMTA government chair and pioneer of the California state licensing movement, said the reason behind the battle centered on the CCA "flexing its muscles" to display to its membership that the CCA still has some muscle power in Sacramento. Two therapists from the AMTA California chapter gave Senator Liz Figueroa a demonstration of "passive joint movement" to show how unreasonable the demands actually were. May pointed out that "the most ridiculous part of the whole objection is that with the failure of the bill, massage therapists will still be free to practice the very techniques that are keeping it from passing."

The CCA convinced the legislators this meant massage therapists would be manipulating joints. However, the real manipulation was done by this chiropractic group. The CCA lobbyists made sure it was understood that the CCA's support for the re-election of specific legislators was contingent on opposing this bill.

The ABMP and the California chapter of the AMTA both would have withdrawn their support if the medical prescription demand had been passed. Both groups and current lobbyists will have to compromise and work together to further develop and perfect the legislation if it is to be reintroduced at some point. According to AMTA lobbyist Mark Rakich's observations, the experience will help any future laws involving our profession. What is clear here is that this profession is not politically organized enough or powerful enough to pass this type of vital legislation. Our association leaders need to work together to raise the money necessary to fund this type of vital legislation. While it remains impossible to please everyone interested, the bill did come a long way, but it's still difficult to predict what will happen next.


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