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Massage Today
May, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 05

Opponents Call Backers of Law Targeting Massage "Liars"

Assembly Member Swanson Apologizes to Profession

By Christie Bondurant

Editor's note: This article has been updated since its original online publication on April 29, 2010.

Opponents of a proposed anti-prostitution law that calls for "in-person" police investigations of California massage therapists accuse its author, State Assembly Member SandrSandré Swanson, of slandering "the entire profession" and have called the data used to justify it an "outrageous lie."

And, in a remarkable turn of events, Swanson told Massage Today that the data, originally posited by his office as the reason for urgent passage of his bill, was not what he considered in sponsoring the bill.

"I didn't consider that data in my agreement to sponsor the bill. ... So if anybody represented anything different than that - then they're wrong because that is not what I believe," he said in an interview.

However, a letter from his office calling for urgent passage of Assembly Bill 1822 states, "Justifying the need for this urgency (of passage) is a recent random sampling of CAMTC (California Massage Therapy Council) applicants, which concluded that 57 percent of the applicants were known prostitutes and 32 percent had questionable backgrounds... ." The CAMTC is charged with issuing certifications to therapists under a two-year-old law.

"It is stunning that Assembly Member Swanson would base his entire support for this bill on a complete lie that slanders the profession and when confronted on it, not even pretend that his statement was anything other than 'wrong,'" said Mike Schroeder, a CAMTC board member. "He knows that his claim is false and he should apologize to the entire profession," Schroeder said.

In an interview with Massage Today, Swanson did just that. "I apologize frankly for any misunderstanding," said Swanson. "I have received some personal emails from massage therapists who I've answered personally, clarifying any misunderstanding that this was an assault on the profession. I have nothing but respect for the profession. And I hope that after our efforts we will strengthen the profession, not weaken it."

The letter from Swanson's office promoting urgent passage of the bill can be read here.

Effect and Cause

If passed, AB 1822 effectively neuters a two-year-old massage certification law that placed certification in the hands of a state board, the CAMTC.

That law (Senate Bill 731) created the Council and gave it authority to conduct both professional and criminal background checks prior to issuing statewide certifications to work anywhere in California. The Council is required to review an applicant's criminal record based on records from the California Department of Justice (DOJ), the central repository for all criminal records in the state.

Considered a major reform measure, SB 731 was enacted because it was clear that the old system, which required therapists to get work approvals in every jurisdiction where they had clients, was both onerous and ineffective in preventing criminals from operating "massage" facilities.

Swanson voted in favor of the reform.

But the law he is now proposing essentially returns California to the widely-criticized old system that placed primary authority for issuing work permits in the hands of local authorities. The proposed law originally made it mandatory for local jurisdictions to return to the old system. But apparently because of pressure from the massage community, it was softened in mid-April to make it optional for local authorities to handle issuance of work permits.

Nevertheless, it is widely expected that if passed, local jurisdictions would again take over primary issuing authority. That means, for all practical purposes, therapists would again have to go from police department to police department in order to work.

The California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA), who produced the survey data used to justify the bill, urged Swanson to sponsor the bill as a means of reducing prostitution and human trafficking via illicit businesses. In a letter dated Feb. 21, 2010 to Swanson, Susan Manheimer, president of CPCA decried the CAMTC's competency in screening out undesirables. The letter claimed that it would be more efficient if local police handled applicant criminal screening first and then turned applicants over to the CAMTC for further investigation. And, justifying this, was the CPCA's "random/regional" survey of applicants.

Completely absent from the letter, and from Swanson's letter calling for the law, is any data describing the CAMTC's actual performance in approving applicants.

The only public statement alleging that CAMTC has let undesirables obtain authorization to work has come from a lobbyist for the CPCA, John Lovell, who told Massage Today that there have been "several hundred certificants with past convictions."

This contention was strongly denied by CAMTC executive director, Ahmos Netanel, who said that Council data shows that police departments are the ones who have allowed criminals to pass background checks, not the Council.

Under the current state law (SB 731), criminal history checks are conducted at both the state and federal levels prior to the Council issuing certification, Netanel said.

"The CAMTC has never approved anyone who was not already approved through the DOJ (Department of Justice)," said Netanel.

Netanel also stated in a document calling for opposition to the bill: "CAMTC has rejected 3,424 applicants, who had passed background checks by local law enforcement, but when checked through CAMTC's process did not pass muster. In fact, so far 346 of those already approved locally were found to have criminal backgrounds and denied the statewide certification."

Schroeder called the statistics used to support the bill, "An outrageous lie they told about the profession. They knew it was a lie when they said it. And I believe every member should call his (Swanson's) office and demand an explanation as to why they've slandered the profession."

The CAMTC believes that this bill, if passed, will put back in place a system that didn't work. "AB 1822 is bringing back the old broken system," Netanel said.

"The reason why the old system didn't work is because it was run on the local level. If (a criminal doesn't) qualify with one city they'll just go to the next city until they do. California will become the haven for human trafficking."

Some CAMTC board members have called AB 1822 a mere "turf bill" posing as an anti-prostitution law that is based on a thinly sourced survey - leaving many in the massage community questioning its origin and the motives behind it.

Schroeder, who believes the survey was used as a false means to gain support of the bill, said: "This is a pure turf bill where some police chiefs want their turf back"

Claims From a Survey

The key data being cited as justification for the bill is a "random/regional sample" survey of CAMTC applicants in San Mateo city and regions around the city. This survey, compiled by the Police Chiefs Association, claimed that 89 percent of these applicants were prostitutes or had questionable backgrounds.

When Massage Today asked to view this data used to produce this survey, Lovell stated that it was based on a summary of sensitive information that he could not supply.

When asked to see the collected data that was shared with Swanson for the composition of this bill, Lovell stated that it was in a letter sent to Swanson proposing AB 1822, and to contact his office for it.

Criminal Backgrounds

Lovell went on to say that the Police Chiefs Association requested applicant information from police departments statewide and learned of "... a number of convicted (persons) who were certified."

When asked to provide this data, he stated that he was unable to provide an exact number due to the "secretive" behavior of the CAMTC. Although CAMTC provides a secure law enforcement login to verify certification, Lovell said that the board has been uncooperative in helping them determine the percentage of applicants with criminal backgrounds who have gained certification.

Regardless of this, Lovell stated that from the data compiled so far, they were able to determine "several hundred certificants with past convictions."

When asked to see this data, Lovell stated that the data is incomplete and that not all police departments in the state have submitted their information.

Another Police Perspective

Richard McElroy, CAMTC board member and a former police officer who investigated illegal massage parlors for more than 25 years, states that the CAMTC's review process is superior to all past methods of vetting massage professionals.

McElroy, who also wrote the Los Angeles Police Department's manual that is used to abate massage brothels, stated in documents opposed to the bill:

"The following are the reasons why (CAMTC's) review and investigative process is superior to all past methods of vetting massage professions:

  • (CAMTC) not only examines the DOJ background report, but pays an additional charge to receive subsequent arrest notification from DOJ when the applicant is arrested at a later date. Local police departments do not.

  • (CAMTC) sends out notifications to the cities where the applicant lives and works (current and past) requesting any criminal information they have that the CAMTC should consider when reviewing an application. Local police departments do not.

  • (CAMTC) has contracted with a private investigative firm to research and physically pull court documents from any location in the state as well as recovering criminal information from out-of-state. Local police departments do not.

  • (CAMTC) is a member of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and has access to the National Practitioners Database, which provides information on applicants who have disciplinary history in the various states where they have been licensed.

  • (CAMTC) has the right to investigate applicants' education, and which sometimes uncovers educational fraud and/or applicants. Most local police departments do not investigate applicants' education.

  • (CAMTC) has the right to interview applicants and will, when necessary, contact the individual applicant to determine the character and intentions of the applicant."

Claims of Uncooperative Behavior

Out of frustration with the CAMTC's "secretive" and "uncooperative" behavior, Lovell, who was also the past lobbyist for SB 731, stated: "The bill is going to pass. SB 731 sunsets in 2016. And if in 2016, we are in the same mess we have now with the exclusionary behavior by the board, we will conclude that this is a failed experiment."

In response to Lovell's claims of the CAMTC behaving uncooperatively, Beverly May, CAMTC chair, shared some of her history in working with the Police Chiefs Association. She stated: "When creating SB 731, I chose Lovell because of his relationship with the Police Chiefs Association."

When May (San Mateo County resident) heard of San Mateo police considering the repeal of SB 731, she contacted Mike Callagy, deputy police chief to set up a meeting to discuss the issue. According to May, Callagy stated to her at their meeting that they were on the same side.

"I felt very comfortable with our meeting until October when I asked to meet with both Mike and John (Lovell) and was denied. I was completely shut out." She went on, "After my attempts, they never contacted me or reached out and went to find an author (for AB 1822) against Oropeza's (author of SB 731) wishes."

AB 1822 passed the Business, Professionals and Consumer Protection Committee on April 20 and was sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It is scheduled to be heard on May 19. For a list of the Appropriations Committees' phone numbers and emails, go to www.assembly.ca.gov.

To contact Assembly Member SandrSandré Swanson's capitol office call (916) 319-2016 or email him at , or contact his legislative consultant Opio Dupree at .

Massage Today will continue to follow this story and provide updates as available. For other Massage Today articles on this issue, read:

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