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Massage Today
November, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 11

Certification in California

By Dixie Wall, Contributing Editor

Editor's note: On Sept. 27, 2008, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed California Senate Bill 731 into law. While the legislation does not mandate licensure or explicitly define scope of practice, it establishes a two-tiered voluntary certification process and a nonprofit Massage Therapy Organization that will oversee certification.

Individuals certified by the organization will be exempt from local (city) massage practice acts, while those not opting for certification will remain under local oversight and will no longer be able to use the title "certified massage therapist," "certified massage practitioner," or any other term/title that suggests certification. Dixie Wall, California therapist and contributing editor to MT, explains why this legislation is so important to the California massage profession in the following article.

The passing of this massage bill was a long-anticipated step for most California massage therapists, who have been burdened by local ordinances and regulatory agencies in each city in which they have chosen to work. Why am I so exhilarated? Certification will not only convey professionalism as health care practitioners, but will also establish a uniform standard for our profession here in California. It will reduce complications that continue to frustrate therapists within the state by establishing a portable, single, statewide standard.

While some remain opposed to this idea, recent surveys conducted by AMTA-CA (the bill's sponsor) and ABMP have shown a majority are in favor of statewide regulation. Beverly May, AMTA-CA government relation co-chair, explains: "Both AMTA-CA and ABMP were in agreement regarding provisions such as full grandfathering and preemption of local ordinances. Those who prefer to work under their local massage ordinances, or in areas having none, can continue to do so as long as those local jurisdictions don't require the new state [regulation] for practice."

May continued, "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."

In the past few years, great legislative progress has been made by Senate Bill 412, as well as the current bill. S.B.412 concluded long battles over education requirements and settled the language disputes with the California Chiropractic Association. Shortly thereafter, S.B.731 moved quickly, including passage through two of the required Senate policy committees before passing the full state Senate.

Unfortunately, S.B.731 stalled in Assembly Appropriations during the first year of its two-year session. The bill was then amended to remove the requirement for a written report. Due to several political issues, bundles of bills, including S.B.731, were put into a "suspense file" at the last hearing in August 2007. The explanation for that decision was fear of further offsetting the new California state budget because of the cost of the bill. Ironically, the implementation of S.B.731 will instead generate money for the state in the long run.

However, the bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly in August 2008. It then sat on Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk, among hundreds of other bills awaiting his signature or veto. The accumulation occurred during California's delay in passing the budget, and Schwarzenegger's promise not to sign any bills until the budget had been passed. The governor set an all-time record with the tardiest budget in California history. However, slow as this bill was to come, we were fortunate to receive the governor's signature. By Sept. 27, he had set another record by vetoing the largest amount of bills of any other governor in four decades.

The bottom line is that finally we will be regulated by experts of massage and bodywork regulation, rather than local police departments. And instead of our annual visit to the department vice squad, we will renew every two years by mail. The first certificates will be issued as early as September 2009. The education requirements vary according to the two-tier system and include several other factors with grandfathering clauses: You must be 18 years or older, have fingerprints taken, a background check, and pay a fee.

The next step, according to May, is "finding funds and creating a massage therapy organization board." This board will include, among others, representatives of the League of California Cities, the California Association of Private and Post-Secondary Schools, and the California State Association of Counties. May explains, "Our Board will consist of representatives and trusted experts that will regulate [certificants] and act as advocates for our profession."

S.B.731 establishes an efficient and practical way of regulation while adding professional recognition similar to other forms of alternative health care modalities. After years of tribulation, California massage practitioners will now be united and be able to take a crucial step forward.


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