Arizona’s massage therapists have been worried — just as have the state’s massage schools, resorts, franchises and spas that educate and employ massage therapists.

The cause of this angst? The inclination of the state legislature, following the lead of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, to move toward deregulating professions. Along with hairdressing, embalming, barbering and many more occupations, massage’s regulation has been threatened.

But in a turnabout, massage and other occupations won’t be deregulated; instead, Gov. Ducey signed HB 2569 on April 10. The new law provides for recognition of licensed professionals. This means anyone holding a license from another state can move to Arizona and begin practicing in that licensed occupation.

“Workers don’t lose their job skills just by moving across state lines, but licensing laws often treat them as if they do,” said Paul Avelar, managing attorney of the Institute for Justice Arizona Office, in a press release. “HB 2569 is a common-sense reform that will help expand economic opportunity by making it easier for people to move to Arizona to further their careers.”

Arizona is the fourth fastest-growing state, in terms of population, after Nevada, Idaho and Utah.

“I think this is a really great step in the long-term vision of reciprocity and therapists to be able to cross state lines and practice,” Cherie Sohnen-Moe, an authority in massage business and education, told MASSAGE Magazine.

“It makes sense that if [license-holders] already jumped through the hoops and proved they are responsible people, why should they have to jump through the hoops again?” Sohnen-Moe added.

The process is not immediate, however, according to Andrew White, the investigator for the Arizona massage board. “You must go through the process of application, background check (fingerprint), and license issued by the Arizona Massage Board which takes anywhere from five to eight weeks,” he said. “Any person practicing without a license can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and also be subject for review in front of the Arizona massage board, which has the authority to issue or not issue the license if the applicant has failed to meet the standards or violate the law, which can endanger the public.”

What the Law Says

The ability to move to Arizona and practice in a licensed occupation will be available only to people from states that require them to hold a license. (See the regulations pertaining to practicing massage in Arizona here.)

For massage therapists, the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy says the applicant has to have been licensed in another state or U.S. territory for at least two years of the last five years immediately preceding their application, or the applicant has to hold a current certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) “or another agency that meets the standards of the national organization.”

All massage applicants must submit to a fingerprint background check. If an applicant has worked as a massage therapist for less than two of the past five years immediately preceding their Arizona application, they must also submit educational transcripts.

A Push to Deregulate

Why have Arizona lawmakers become so single-minded about deregulation?

According to the Arizona Capital Times, the state “has effectively become a breeding ground for licensing changes, something that states led by both parties have undertaken in recent years. The efforts come after years of advocacy from a handful of libertarian-leaning groups like the Goldwater Institute, the Institute for Justice and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. The groups claim the growing number of occupational licenses keep people out of certain jobs and protect the pocketbooks of the folks who already work in those fields.”

As recently as February, more than a dozen bills were pushing for deregulation of various occupations in Arizona, according to the Times.

The potential deregulation of massage was “such an insult” to the state’s massage industry, K.C. Miller, founder and owner of Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, in Tempe, told MASSAGE Magazine.

“We would be the only state that would go backwards,” she said. “[But] what happened is the sports teams and big resorts said, ‘That would be a bad idea, that would affect tourism.'”

The move to deregulate was shelved, and Gov. Ducey instead signed HB 2569, which was sponsored by Sen. Warren Petersen, to allow people licensed in occupations in other states to move into Arizona and open their own businesses or seek employment.

Many franchises have locations in Arizona; there are 39 Massage Envy spas alone in Arizona. The state is also home to such large-scale employers of massage therapists as Boulders Resort & Spa, Canyon Ranch, Sanctuary Camelback Mountain and many more luxury resorts.

Now, said Miller, “What the governor’s intent is [is] to create more jobs more easily in Arizona — and so bless his heart.”

A Grey Area

Theoretically, massage therapists who start a business or get a job in Arizona could be required to obtain educational hours if theirs fall short of the 700 hours required by Arizona’s licensure law; however, that might be circumvented if the therapist passes the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) or a board certification exam administered by the NCBTMB, said Miller.

For now, she said, it’s a grey area.

“In other states, many of those states don’t have the requirement of 700 hours, they only have 500 hours, so that’s the grey area where we need interpretation,” she said.

“Do they need to get those extra hours? If you came here from Colorado or Utah, when that license expires, you have to either go back to the licensing state and get that license renewed or get licensed here in Arizona,” Miller added. “We don’t know yet about that grey area, if massage therapists will have to obtain any additional hours.”

Massage therapists interested in moving to Arizona should keep up with any changes posted to the website of the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy.

Protecting Integrity

According to Miller, the new law represents a positive middle ground between preserving Arizona’s massage license and having Gov. Ducey do away with regulation altogether.

“We found a happy ground,” she said. “I was afraid we would be taken light years back, but now I’d say, maybe he’s taking us into the future.”

About the Author:

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine‘s editor in chief.