AMTA Michigan Chapter group photo
AMTA Michigan Chapter group photo

Michigan Legislative Spotlight

By Massage Today , Editorial Staff

Michigan Legislative Spotlight

By Massage Today , Editorial Staff

Building strong relationships with local and state governments helps advance the profession and, when crises strikes, like the pandemic, navigate those situations as a team. We spoke with Michigan massage therapists to gain more insight into their advocacy work and how they’ve built strong government relationships over time.

Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship massage therapists in Michigan have with the state government and how you developed and maintained that relationship?

We have a great relationship with our state government here in Michigan. AMTA’s Michigan Chapter Government Relations Chair, Jessica Carter, and our lobby team at Midwest Strategy Group are the outward face with lawmakers. We work hard to develop personal relationships with lawmakers who are working on legislation of interest, we are constantly in communication with our regulators at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, and have built strong relationships with the appointed members of the Michigan Massage Therapy Board.

Additionally, we host an annual AMTA Day at the State Capitol. The Massage Therapy Program at Lansing Community College donates the use of their chairs and AMTA member volunteers donate their time to provide free 15-minute massages to lawmakers and key staff. We use that opportunity to share information with legislative offices and help build on our relationships. It really helps to have that casual, relaxing introduction before we may have more serious conversations on pending legislation or administrative rules in an office setting. 

What are you hearing from massage therapists in terms of some of the biggest challenges they are facing?

Over the first three months, nearly all of our communications were related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. Here in Michigan, we started out as fourth in the country, mostly in metro Detroit, and the Governor issued a stay at home order that closed all non-essential businesses. As a result, we had seen a lot of questions surrounding unemployment and the eligibility for self-employed individuals based on the new federal guidelines. We also had questions about small business loan opportunities from the Small Business Association (SBA), the MEDC (MI Economic Development Corp.), and other resources like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

As the governor started to slowly reopen the state, the second biggest question is about when they can return to work, guidelines for how to practice, and how to communicate this information to their clients.

Massage therapy reopened on June 15, 2020 with guidelines from the governor’s office. The most recent communications include requests for clarifications of the guidelines to return to work and how to determine if it’s safe. There is a great disparity in determining the time that it’s safe for massage therapists and their clients. Now that the governor has opened massage to working again, the consensus varies from “I’m ready now” to “give me a few months to see how things calm down.” 

The AMTA Michigan Chapter President, Kathy Paholsky, along with the entire board, does a great job interacting with members on the phone, through emails, and on social media to answer any and every question possible.

How well do you think your state government understands the challenges facing massage therapists and the larger massage therapy profession?

LMTs in Michigan are licensed under the public health code with all other health professions. While that is a result of legislation from over a decade ago it continues to pay dividends because we are regulated along with doctors, nurses, and others. So far, the state government continues to treat us as the health professionals we are, and we really appreciate that. 

Additionally, we worked with the governor’s office to revise an FAQ related to the executive order on essential businesses to stop using the term “parlor” which is offensive to our profession. We really appreciate Governor Whitmer’s office making that change in verbiage when they updated their guidance. It’s those little conversations with state leaders about our profession and our members that help us move forward together. 

On the economic front, we think that our elected officials and government staff all understand the impact this crisis is having on small businesses, including LMTs. In Michigan, all of our elected leaders have reached out about potential ways small businesses believe they can open up safely. 

Beyond the crisis, we continue to be engaged with state government on issues related to licensure, local ordinances that impact massage therapists, human trafficking (which has become a major issue in Michigan where we have an international border), and other ongoing issues like administrative rules. 

When you talk with local government officials, what are you emphasizing about what’s happening to members and the profession during the COVID-19 crisis?

We have been very focused on the impact of local business ordinances and zoning issues that impact massage therapists’ businesses. In Michigan, state law prevents local units of government from providing occupational licenses (done at the state level), but allows them to issue local business licenses and/or zoning requirements. 

We have been building a positive relationship with organizations in Michigan like the Michigan Municipal League (MML), who recently published an article on best practices from AMTA’s Government Relations Director James Specker in their quarterly magazine. 

We’ve been working collaboratively with the national organization and individual cities and townships to seek changes to local ordinances with a focus on three major areas: 

• Treating LMTs like health professionals. 

• Requiring that applicants for massage business licenses hold a state occupational license. 

• Ensuring that any costs/fees are the same or similar as other health professions (as opposed to other non-related businesses like pawn shops or adult entertainment). 

This has been generally well received by local governments who may not always change every item we would like but almost always take steps in a positive direction.

It takes building trust and building relationships. Local units of government generally want to support small businesses in their communities and massage therapists have an opportunity and a responsibility to work collaboratively with locals who want to prevent the same illegal activities we also want to stop. It’s been a great process where we have received some guidance from work of AMTA national staff who are looking at ordinances from all over the country for best practices and then working with local units of government here in Michigan to implement those to the greatest extent possible. 

What are you hearing from your state government officials and where do you see success in your efforts? 

We get most of our positive reception from lawmakers. So many more are familiar with the profession and are now even using massage more than in previous years. I think that’s really a testament to the members and profession as a whole. People see the need and the value of a vibrant massage industry in the state. 

We were able to pass legislation increasing the number of hours needed for licensure in this state a few years ago, and we’ve completed a massive rewrite of the administrative rules and are currently working on a more recent update to those rules. We are also an active participant in conversations on human trafficking. What we’ve really seen is that relationships matter and that when you build those relationships and build trust, decision-makers seek out your opinion on issues they are working on.

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