If You’re Not Moving Forward, You’re Backing Up

There have been several developments in the regulation of massage in the past few weeks that I personally find distressing. Earlier this week, Florida Senate Bill 584 moved a step closer to passage. This piece of special-interest legislation would amend Florida’s massage therapy law to allow graduates of certain board-approved schools to obtain a temporary permit and practice for six months without a license, until such time as they fail the exam or become licensed, whichever comes first. Although the bill states that they must work under the supervision of a licensed therapist, the terms of that are not spelled out. Does that mean the supervising therapist is on the premises, in the treatment room, or giving an occasional phone call? This is where boards frequently get into trouble and spend a lot of time with something bogged down in a policy committee—when something has not been clearly defined—and in this case, “supervision” isn’t clearly defined.

New Hampshire is trying to abolish massage licensing altogether, as a cost-cutting, government-reducing move. That would of course mean back to square one, where anyone who knows absolutely nothing about contraindications for massage, endangerment sites, or professional ethics can feel free to call themselves a massage therapist.

Utah just amended their practice act to remove the key word “therapeutic” from the scope of practice definition and added in the word “recreational”, in what is in my opinion a misguided attempt to thwart sexual activity being conducted in the name of massage. Other than the fact that I think House Bill 243 is a big step back for our profession, I was just as shocked that the government relations folks in the Utah chapter of AMTA supported it to start with. I’m an active member of the North Carolina chapter, and I cannot imagine the leadership of our chapter supporting that.

I was gratified a few days ago to see Les Sweeney, President of ABMP, and a few days later Bob Benson, the Chairman of ABMP, weigh in with the same attitude I have about this legislation. Rick Rosen, who is a former Chair of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, former Executive Director for FSMTB, and currently the Executive Director of AFMTE, made a comment on Bob’s blog that I think nailed the important points of this issue:

The most critical component of the state law for any regulated profession is what’s known as its Scope of Practice definition. The list of prohibited acts in a law is important, but less so than the scope definition. If what you want to do in your massage therapy practice is not listed in the scope, you can’t legally do it.

The Utah action that removed the term “therapeutic” from the scope definition, and added the term “recreational massage” may have the effect of narrowing the scope of practice for massage therapists. At the very least, it takes massage therapy out of the realm of health care and into the murky world of “other business activities”, which includes adult entertainment.

Considerations around enforcement of a Practice Act should not take precedence over the scope itself, and it is not a sound justification for downgrading the law. That’s what has occurred in Utah, and the Licensed Massage Therapists of that state will have to deal with it.

Every single word in statues and rules that regulate the practice of massage therapy is important. What you think it says is not always what it means — or what it will produce in the daily administration of a regulatory program. That’s why we need experienced and competent government relations professionals representing our interests.

I report on the legislation of massage, and I have future aspirations of working in government relations. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years doing research on boards and practice acts, and while I’m certainly not as experienced or learned as Rosen, I think I’m at the point of recognizing a piece of bad legislation when I see it. The way I see it, if you’re not moving forward, you’re backing up.

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