SB 687 ‘Massage Therapy Practice Act’
Mary Elizabeth LeBlanc, Government Relations Chair, Oklahoma Chapter of the AMTA
On May 11, 2016 Governor Mary Fallin signed into law SB 687, the ‘Massage Therapy Practice Act’. Those of us on the legislative front lines were hopeful, but skeptical, that the bill would pass. Now that it has, we have begun an outreach program to all massage therapists in the state. The question on everyone’s mind is: what’s next?
Some background: As most massage therapists in the state are aware, the push to obtain massage licensure in Oklahoma has been an on-going process for at least two decades. Bills have been proposed, and there have been many team players, both within and on the outside of the massage industry. No one individual or organization could have accomplished licensure alone. In 2013, legislation was once again introduced when citizens outside of the profession approached a House Representative and a Senator to sponsor bills to regulate massage therapy. At the time, I was president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the AMTA. I quickly began to educate myself with a passion to learn as much as possible about the legal process. Senator Sykes agreed to meet with a constituent who was a VP on our board. He met with her and fellow board members in the OKC area; however, his bill died in the Senate without being read. The board members of the AMTA decided that as an organization, we would not be kept out of the process and felt that it was time to follow through. In 2014 I chose not to run for the AMTA presidency, but to focus our chapter on legislation. I was appointed as the AMTA OK Chapter Government Relations Chair. I had already applied for a LLEAD (Legislative and Legal Education Advocacy and Defense) grant from AMTA national to help us fund our efforts. As our small chapter was not strong in volunteers or organization, the fund was granted for a lobbyist only. From the pool of lobbyists I chose Majority Plus, LLC based upon their professionalism, dedication, and willingness to adjust their fee structure to accommodate the grant. I put the years of accumulated paperwork toward licensure that I had access to in the hands of Mr. Pat Hall. I teamed my tenacious personality with Mr. Hall’s insight and dedication, and we did not give up. Pat kept at it on the legislative side while I kept at it with our chapter board and massage therapists who were paying attention and becoming a part of the process. I honestly thought it would be several more years before the bill would pass.
What does this mean for massage therapists? This bill means one massage therapy license statewide; no more city licenses after a state license has been obtained. However, if you operate under a city license, please keep it current until you have obtained a state license. Municipalities will still be able to charge for business / zoning licensing or permits. Having state regulation will uplift the profession and help to deter human trafficking. Obtaining a state license will give you recognition as a professional and allow you to license in other states that offer reciprocity.
Who has to license as a massage therapist? All individuals who call themselves massage therapists and work in any setting where massage therapy is offered will need to be licensed, with one exception. The exception is a trained massage therapist working under the license structure of a licensed medical professional (such as a chiropractor). If you are an employee within a physician’s office, you are able to work under the doctor’s license and liability insurance if that is the structure of the office. If you are an independent contractor, or if you are renting space at a doctor’s office, you will need a state license.
What are qualification requirements? Anyone joining the profession after May 1, 2017 will need five hundred (500) hours of formal education from a licensed and accredited program and take a nationally recognized proficiency exam for massage therapy to apply and be approved for a license. The effective date of this act is September 1, 2016, approximately 90 days after it was signed into law. From September 1st until May 1, 2017 you will need to apply for a temporary license with one or more of the following: a. proof of passing a massage therapy proficiency exam; b. an affidavit stating five (5) years of massage therapy practice (i.e., a statement from CPA, client, banker, landlord, or individual to whom you pay booth rent); c. five hundred (500) hours of formal education from a licensed and accredited program. Those who have any of the aforementioned, but fail to apply before May 1, 2017 will still be grandfathered in. We do not expect to reach everyone practicing massage therapy in this short time frame. The therapists who have a combination of the requirements but fall short of any one of the aforementioned should still apply for licensure to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. We will not shut out anyone who has been making their livelihood from massage therapy! The goal is to bring uniformity to the profession by requiring minimal education and proficiency.
Will massage therapists who maintain licensure from another state be able to license in Oklahoma? Yes! If a therapist lives outside of Oklahoma and works in a facility in Oklahoma, he or she will need to maintain both licenses if they practice in both states. The exception to this rule is granted for the military; if a therapist is working on a military base, the only license needed is for the state of residence.
What is the application process? The application will be made available online to print and fill out. You will need to provide all required documentation, and answer as completely as possible. The application can be mailed or hand-delivered to the office in Oklahoma City. The fees will need to be paid with the submission of the application in the form of a money order, or exact amount of cash if hand delivering. No personal checks accepted!
Why are massage therapists under the Board of Cosmetology and Barbering? When an unlicensed state attempts licensure, issue of the regulatory board is a major concern. Many states have a stand-alone massage therapy board; some states fall under the Health Department, some under the Nursing Department, some under the Chiropractic Board, some under the Medical Board, and some under a regulatory agency that issues licenses for many professions. The AMTA preferred a stand-alone board, with placement under the Medical Board secondly. A stand-alone board would give massage therapists the most control over their profession; the Medical Board holds the reputation of health and wellness; i.e., serious health care. Because of deep funding cuts in Oklahoma, a stand-alone board was not an option. The legislative move to place us under the Board of Cosmetology and Barbering was a surprise to me. In hindsight, however, it may be the best possible placement. Sherry G. Lewelling, the Executive Director of the State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering, has a commitment to the profession of massage therapy, to the general good of all, and to the elimination of human trafficking. The Cosmetology Board has the manpower to execute inspections and the teeth to enforce the rules of safety and sanitation.
Will the massage therapy community have representation in the process as this bill is enacted? Yes! Sherry Lewelling has already met with me and six other massage therapists from around the state. She is planning the first “town hall” meeting in which all interested and concerned individuals may ask questions and voice their opinions. Sherry is very welcoming and invites all who have questions or concerns to email her. I am starting a databank of FAQs so that she is not overwhelmed with emails; if you wish to contact me, I can add your question to the list to submit to Sherry. She anticipates that the transition will warrant several meetings and invite all who are interested to be a part of the process. Your voice can not be heard if you are not present to speak.
Will there be on-going representation from massage therapists? Yes! The bill calls for a Governor Appointed Massage Therapy Advisory Board. If you have time, passion and commitment please ask for more details.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405.924.2114; you may also contact India Carson, AMTA Oklahoma chapter president, at email@example.com or 405.223.8416.