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Massage Today
January, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 01

Recent History of California State Massage Regulation

By Beverly May

In late 1991, the California chapter of American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA-CA) organized the California Coalition on Somatic Practices. This informal group, representing massage and somatic associations, individuals and school owners, developed a 40-page informational packet and survey on questions of professional identity and regulation. In 1995, almost 20,000 surveys were sent throughout the state. At that time, just over a majority of massage therapists supported state regulation. Non-massage somatic practitioners, who are not subject to local vice laws, mostly did not want to be regulated.

Six years later, AMTA-CA surveyed our members specifically regarding massage regulation. All the massage and somatic organizations that might be affected were offered copies of the survey. Only the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) did a concurrent survey.

With fairly strong support from our members for a state law to pre-empt local vice regulations, AMTA-CA began to explore feasibility. ABMP, with a large California membership, was told that we would not proceed if they were in opposition, and we encouraged their participation. Our intent was that non-massage, somatic specialties be exempt, as is fairly standard in the newer state licensing laws now in existence.

We began with a fairly broad principle - if there is going to be regulation, one state regulation is preferable to multiple and vastly differing vice ordinances. It has been our experience after at least three decades of working on repeal or reform of local ordinances, that very little progress is possible at that level. Both AMTA-CA and ABMP were in agreement regarding provisions such as full grandfathering and pre-emption of these local ordinances.

Only AMTA-CA committed to hiring a lobbyist. We prepared to introduce a bill in the 2003-2004 legislative session. Although it was extremely optimistic, we expected to mobilize supporters and work with opponents and other stakeholders.

Then, San Diego assemblywoman Christine Kehoe agreed to author the bill. Under the pressure of meeting the bill-filing deadline, communication broke down and caused some initial chaos.

We expected a "spot bill," worded as "an intent to study the need for regulation," allowing us time to work on the actual wording. Instead, the assemblywoman's staff cut and pasted sections from AMTA and ABMP Model State Codes that we had sent, along with sections of bills pending in other states. The result was a bill that no one liked pieced together in order to keep the bill active.

Many states, including California, require submission of a Sunrise survey documenting the need for state regulation. Typically, it's based on potential harm to the public by the unregulated profession. There is little proof that massage practitioners actually do much physical harm.

The Sunrise survey introduced in 2003 took the position that massage is not causing any significant physical injury, but that the public would be better served by state regulation rather than the patchwork of local regulations. We believe the public is harmed emotionally and financially by the current situation - as individuals, as well as in the costs borne by communities in their mostly futile efforts to prevent the use of massage as a front by the sex industry. The costs of state regulation would be borne by the pooled fees of all licensees. The 30,000 or so California massage therapists also are harmed by being subject to varied and expensive local requirements, paying for criminal investigations and permit fees in multiple cities.

At the same time, a committee representing AMTA-CA, ABMP and massage schools formed to discuss revisions to the bill, producing a version that we felt could begin the process of negotiation with other stakeholders including local officials, employers, other schools and other professions.

In November 2003, AMTA-CA agreed to pull the bill from consideration as there was still too much work to do to prepare for upcoming Sunrise hearings. Fast-forward to the 2005-2006 session when finding an author was not easy. Gov. Schwarzenegger had just come to power with plans to do away with over half the boards regulating professions, and a serious budget crisis was taking attention from legislators. Our best option was a promise from then Senator Figueroa, Chair of the Senate Business and Professions Committee (as well as the joint committee, which would hear our Sunrise application) to come up with something if we passed the hearing. Her option was to author a bill with no sponsoring organization, but with AMTA and ABMP both providing the type of support that sponsors generally do. However, rather than a license law, Figueroa insisted on the odd California model of a private agency created by the legislature to issue certifications and regulate certificants - unlike the previous licensing bill, this would be a title act, allowing those not certifying to work under other titles.

With lobbyists for both AMTA-CA and ABMP working together, S.B.421 died in the very final hours of the session due to opposition mostly by the California Chiropractic Association (CCA), and to a lesser degree, the Physical Therapy Association, over scope of practice issues.

During the most recent session, Senator Oropeza authored S.B.731, using the language from S.B.421, with AMTA-CA as the sponsoring organization. ABMP was in support and both groups worked very hard to address the concerns that defeated the prior bill. The CCA formally supported it after the massage associations agreed to remove the definition (scope of practice) of massage. Typically, title acts don't need definitions, unlike practice (license) acts, which regulate both the practice as defined and the titles used. S.B.731 also died in the final hours. Despite having the votes to pass, it got caught up in strange politics which caused numerous bills to be bundled and held back.

For the second year of this session, it looks like we can take a "gutted bill" - one that still is active, and insert our language. We have a powerful author and likely will co-sponsor with ABMP. If all goes well, it would be a bill that has passed the first house and is in the second committee of the second house (where S.B.731 stalled). It will have a new number this next year.

California is a very large and diverse state. With more than 200 schools teaching massage at all levels of training and vastly differing requirements throughout the state, the profession itself has unique regional needs and perspectives. The state is not very supportive of new state regulations. We feel this optional title act is a reasonable solution. Those who prefer to work under their local massage ordinances, or in areas having none, can continue to do so. The bill has tiers of 250 and 500 hours, with the lower tier phasing out after five years. Those certified by the board will be exempt from the need for local massage permits and cities must recognize them in zoning and fees as they do other professions. By doing so, massage therapists in California finally can avoid regulations prepared for vice control.

 

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