A six-year battle for state regulation in California—a state with one of the greatest number of massage therapists—could come to an end any day now.

Both the American Massage Therapy Association’s California chapter and Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals have launched letter-writing campaigns to encourage CA Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign SB731, a bill to provide for voluntary certification of massage therapists.

The bill passed through the Senate in late August. The date by which Gov. Schwarzenegger must decided whether he will sign or veto the bill is Sept. 30. California is at a budget impasse, with the state legislature more than two months late in sending a budget to the Governor.

The bill would provide for the creation of the Massage Therapist Organization, which would be empowered to begin issuing certificates after August 31, 2009. Currently the state is home to an estimated 25,000 massage therapists, although without state regulation there is no official number available.

Those who pursue certification must submit to fingerprinting and a criminal background check. Once certified, they would be freed from all local regulations governing massage therapists, with the exception of business licenses and health codes.

The bill’s supporting argument rests on consumer protection. A statement from the office of the bill’s author, Senator Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), stated, “[T]he current patchwork regulatory scheme throughout the state does not protect the consumer. Additionally, it does not protect the ‘professional’ massage therapist who does not wish to be subject to individuals who view the massage industry as an entrance into the sex trade.”

An opposing argument by The California Physical Therapy Association stated, “The regulatory scheme proposed by the bill is unnecessary and inconsistent. CPTA does not disagree with the need for a bill that is trying to move away from inconsistent local regulations aimed at massage businesses.

“However, SB 731 goes further than that by assuming that all persons performing massage services are providing health care services. This does not account for all of those persons providing what are clearly recreational services at day spas throughout the state.

“Additionally, if all massage service providers are indeed health care providers, then the scheme in this bill would make them the only health care providers in the State regulated by a nonprofit entity and not a State-run licensing board.”

—Karen Menehan, MASSAGE editor in chief