CA massage lawOn June 23, the latest amended version of Assembly Bill (AB) 1147—a bill that would change regulation and voluntary certification standards for massage therapists in California—was passed by the California Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development.

Coauthored by Assemblymembers Susan Bonilla, Jimmy Gomez and Chris Holden, AB 1147 aims to revise and replace Senate Bill (SB) 731, which was passed in September 2008 and is due to sunset this December. SB 731 created voluntary certification for massage therapists in California and also created the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC) to oversee the certification process and regulate those who choose to become certified.

According to the authors and supporters of AB 1147, one of the most pressing problems with SB 731 is it removed the power of local agencies to regulate and restrict the operation of massage parlors that may be engaged in unlawful acts, such as human trafficking and prostitution.

“While the law that created the council, SB 731, has helped legitimate massage businesses, it has had unintended consequences,” Holden said. “These consequences have tied the hands of cities who want to keep illicit massage businesses out of their communities.”

One of the ways SB 731 has helped massage therapists is the law allows those who are certified by CAMTC to avoid the hassle of multiple fees and varying ordinances when working in cities and counties throughout California.

However, this same aspect of SB 731 has also allowed for the proliferation of massage parlors that engage in unlawful activity, according to several California mayors, city council members, law-enforcement officials and other stakeholders who made statements in support of AB 1147 at the June 23 hearing.

“SB 731 almost occurred in a perfect storm, around the same time that human trafficking as a criminal business enterprise became extraordinarily organized,” said John Lovell, representing the California Police Chiefs Association. “The marriage of the two is a marriage made in hell.”

One of the main goals of AB 1147 is to give local agencies the leverage they need to bust massage parlors that are fronts for prostitution and human trafficking. The bill also seeks to raise the education standard for voluntary certification.

Under SB 731, one can apply for the certified massage practitioner (CMP) credential by meeting an education requirement of 250 hours. To apply for the certified massage therapist (CMT) credential, one must meet an education requirement of 500 hours.

The current language of AB 1147 removes the option for a CMP credential but does authorize the renewal of existing CMP credentials. Under AB 1147, massage therapists who would like to earn the CMT credential would need to complete 500 hours of education and pass an approved exam.

“What AB 1147 pretty much does is it revises and makes several substantive changes to the state law relating to massage therapy,” said Ahmos Netanel, CEO of CAMTC. “It deletes the pre-emption of ordinances and land-use authority for establishments that only use CAMTC certified professionals and for CAMTC certified professionals; it reconstitutes CAMTC; it reinforces local massage ordinances; it raises professional education standards for massage therapists; it expands the disciplinary authority of CAMTC; and it extends the sunset date for CAMTC until Jan. 1, 2017.”

During the June 23 hearing, several members of the massage profession, including representatives of the California chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association, expressed concerns about whether AB 1147 would bring back the challenges massage therapists faced prior to SB 731, such as the wide variety of city and county ordinances, high fees for multiple permits, and zoning restrictions. Toward the end of the hearing, Bonilla responded to these concerns.

“There’s no intention in the bill to return to discriminatory practices against massage therapists,” she said. “I have a very strong intention of ensuring that the profession is adequately protected as well.”

Netanel said CAMTC is working to make sure the final version of AB 1147 does indeed include specific language to protect massage therapists from the high fees and varied ordinances that plagued them in the past.

“Assemblywoman Bonilla made a commitment that this would be inserted into the law, and we’re fighting for that,” Netanel said. “She gave that assurance, but whether it ends up written into the law, we’ll see at the end of September.”

The bill is slated to be heard next in the California Senate Committee on Appropriations around the beginning of August, and further discussion of key issues and potential amendments is expected at that time. According to Bonilla’s press secretary, the last day for each house to pass bills is Aug. 31, and the last day for the governor to sign or veto bills is Sept. 30.