Massage-Law Effort Fails in California

Three years of legislative bargaining, and dozens of meetings with massage therapists and interested parties, wasn’t enough to get a massage-therapy law passed in California. In the end, supporters of SB 412 blame the California Chiropractic Association (CCA) with its defeat in early September.

“The chiropractors demanded an amendment barring a [massage therapist] from moving a client in the passive range of motion that was simply unacceptable,” according to Beverly May, government-relations chair of the California chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). “The ultimate irony is that, having defeated the bill, every [massage therapist] in the state can continue to move clients in the passive range, as there was not, and will not be, anything illegal about this sort of movement.”

In September the CCA Web site boasted of the massage bill’s demise with the headline, “CCA Members’ Contact with Legislators Key to Killing Measure.”

The bill, which proposed a massage-therapy title act, was not without other critics. Physical therapists took exception to its definition of massage, and the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools weighed in on education requirements. There was also infighting within the massage-therapy field, despite extensive coalition-building efforts by the AMTA, which spearheaded the bill, and, later, by Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.

In June, the California Alliance of Massage & Bodywork Schools urged its members and other massage therapists to oppose SB 412 because of the elimination of a proposed 250-hour tier in the bill’s education requirement.

Despite these other dissidents, however, ultimately it was chiropractors that did the bill in, May said. “We faced a well-heeled, motivated … opposition. In short, they were ready, willing and able to go to the mat, and they did.”

— Kelle Walsh