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Legislators, Mayors, Council Members and Law Enforcement Urge Legislature to Sunset Massage Therapy Regulation Legislation and Stop Proliferation of Illegitimate Massage Establishments

March 11, 2014
Mayors, council members, police chiefs and other law enforcement flooded the Capitol on Monday to call on the Legislature to replace SB 731 of 2008 with regulations that restore local control over massage therapy businesses to California cities and police departments.
 
The Sunset Review Committee, which jointly comprises the Assembly Business Professions and Consumer Protection committee and the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development committees, took up SB 731 in its sunset review hearing Monday afternoon.

SB 731 (Oropeza) created a voluntary certification process through a nonprofit organization for massage professionals. Instead of professionalizing massage therapists, the legislation has created a mechanism that allows establishments that offer illicit services to prosper because cities are effectively prevented from regulating massage establishments. These places may also serve as fronts for human trafficking.
 
News Conference
 
The day began with a news conference in the Capitol, where Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Member Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) joined representatives from cities, law enforcement and nonprofit organizations to talk with the press about the issue. Assembly Member Gomez spoke about the problems with the current certification process. Assembly Member Holden told reporters that members of the joint committee are concerned about the issues cities have raised with SB 731.
 
Walnut Creek City Council Member Kristina Lawson explained the affect that this legislation has had in her city and advocated for SB 731’s sunset on Jan. 1, 2015. She requested new regulations replacing the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), the nonprofit charged with certifying massage therapists, with a state agency that would be responsible for monitoring and regulating massage therapists and massage therapy businesses. It’s crucial, Lawson said, for business owners to be held responsible for what happens in their own establishments.
 
South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian stressed what she has witnessed in her community since SB 731 became law in 2008. The number of establishments in South Pasadena has more than doubled from eight in 2008 to 19 today. She also spoke about the fact that massage therapists are considered in the same professional business category as doctors. Massage practitioners need 250 hours of training for certification. Khubesrian, an M.D., spent 12 years in medical school and training to become a doctor. She stated that putting both professions in the same category is ill-advised because the education and training for doctors is at a much higher level and doctors are held to greater standards.
 
Simi Valley Police Chief Mitch McCann communicated how the benefit of a pilot program is that it provides a time frame during which stakeholders can determine what has and what has not worked. SB 731, said Chief McCann, does not work for cities and police departments. He requested that CAMTC add a law enforcement person to its board of directors. In his own city of Simi Valley, the community of almost 126,000 residents now has 47 massage establishments.
 
Monday’s press conference speakers were flanked by other city officials, law enforcement and nonprofit representatives including:
  • Sacramento Council Member Jay Schenirer
  • Citrus Heights Police Lieutenant Doug Fletcher
  • South San Francisco Vice Mayor Rich Garbarino
  • South San Francisco Council Member Pardeep Gupta
  • Vacaville Council Member Curtis Hunt
  • Vacaville Police Chief Randy Ulibarri
  • Redwood City Police Sergeant Greg Farley
  • Redwood City Police Chief Gary Kirby
  • Huntington Beach Police Captain Bill Stuart
  • Pittsburg Council Member Ben Johnson
  • El Cerrito Mayor Janet Abelson
  • Lisa Pendleton, executive committee secretary, Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action
  • Lisa Rhoden Boyd, president, Moms For Family and Community 
Following the morning news conference, Assembly Member Holden issued a press release stating that SB 731 needs to be replaced. “The state set out to improve the massage therapy industry with the creation of the California Massage Therapy Council in 2009. But the law that created the council has failed to keep out the bad actors and has tied the hands of cities that want to keep illicit massage businesses out of their communities. We need to look at allowing this law to sunset and replace it with something that will allow our communities to regain control over businesses who continually flout the law.”
 
The event was well covered with reporters and cameras attending from KCRA-TV, Capital Public Radio, Capitol Television News Service, Ventura County Star, Orange County Register and Sacramento Bee. The Pasadena Star-News also ran a story following the hearing.
 
Committee Hearing
 
The Business and Professions Sunset Review Committee, which jointly comprises the Assembly Business Professions and Consumer Protection and the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development committees, heard testimony on SB 731 in the afternoon in the hearing that lasted until 5:00 p.m.
 
League Legislative Representative Kirstin Kolpitcke’s testimony emphasized the issues that have arisen since the enactment of SB 731. For example, the city of Stanton had just one establishment in 2009. Today there are 28, with 26 of these advertising on illicit websites. She explained how human trafficking and prostitution have proliferated under SB 731. In her remarks, Kolpitcke outlined the League’s priorities including:
  • Having a state agency oversee the certification/licensing of massage professionals instead of a nonprofit.
  • Requiring owners of massage establishments to be responsible for what occurs in their businesses. Currently, CAMTC is only responsible for certified employees and owners. If an owner is not certified, CAMTC can take no action against the owner. Compounding the problem is that local governments have their hands tied and cannot regulate these businesses.
  • Modifying the language that authorizes local governments to regulate massage businesses to the extent a jurisdiction “uniformly” regulates all other business professionals. Because cities and counties do not uniformly regulate business professionals, the existing law effectively prevents the regulation of the massage industry.
  • Existing law prevents local governments from charging massage establishments more than the lowest business license fee of any professional service. The statute should be clarified that local governments can charge fees to recoup the costs of enforcing the statute. Since CAMTC does not investigate massage establishments, the only way inspections will occur is if local governments do it.
San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang testified about her city’s concerns with SB 731. She said that certain provisions have left the city unable to regulate and manage massage establishments in San Francisco. Since it was enacted, Supervisor Tang said that the city has lost significant oversight authority and she spoke about how massage establishments closed by the city have reopened under the CAMTC certification process.
 
Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto also testified about the effects of SB 731 and asked for reforms of this legislation. He talked about how cities, under SB 731, are not able to effectively regulate these businesses.
 
Huntington Beach Police Captain Bill Stuart provided the committee with his city’s experience of SB 731’s problems starting with the rapid increase of massage establishments in Huntington Beach. He expressed how critical it is for cities to have the authority to regulate and monitor businesses in different ways based on the type of business. The police chief closed by saying that since SB 731’s enactment, massage has become unmanageable for cities.
 
Simi Valley Police Chief Mitch McCann, who spoke at the news conference earlier, explained how this is an issue that is affecting all communities. He told the committee that there is little law enforcement can do to monitor these businesses and that the California Police Chiefs Association wants this legislation to sunset in January 2015. There are 45,000 permits and according to CAMTC, 2012 is the first time a massage therapist was disciplined. He also stressed the fact that this is a problem throughout California communities and asked the committee to help.
 
Los Angeles Police Captain Kelly Mulldorfer explained Los Angeles’ problems with SB 731. She told the committee that CAMTC has been an ineffective partner in monitoring massage establishments. Los Angeles’ experience has been that SB 731 created loopholes that left the city ill-equipped to manage massage businesses similar to other cities. The captain spoke about how these illicit operations undermine the legitimate massage establishments. Many communities have been overrun with storefront businesses that operate as a front for prostitutions.
 
Sens. Marty Block (D-San Diego) and Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Redondo Beach), and Assembly Members Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco) and Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) all raised questions or expressed concerns about the implementation of SB 731.
 
Assembly Member Bonilla, committee co-chair, thanked the local officials for their testimony and stressed how she and her colleagues take the concerns of cities seriously. “The sunset review process provides the opportunity to formally review the California Massage Therapy Council and we will be addressing the serious concerns raised by local government and law enforcement regarding the proliferation of illegal massage businesses.“
 
Sen. Lieu, committee co-chair, spoke about the need to reform SB 731. “After listening to the testimony and reviewing the materials at the joint hearing, I believe the current law is not working as intended. It has resulted in increased prostitution and human trafficking in neighborhoods and cities across California. That is not acceptable. I will work closely with my committee and the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee to fix this law so that we can fully protect both licensees and the public.”
 
Next Steps
 
The League would like to thank the mayors, council members, law enforcement and nonprofit representatives who traveled to Sacramento on Monday to participate in the morning news conference and legislative hearing that did not adjourn until late in the afternoon.
 
The League will be reaching out to the members on the committees so that our concerns can be addressed in the sunset legislation. In the coming days the League will prepare a sample letter for cities to use to express their concerns with SB 731 to the committee.  
 
Additional information is available at www.cacities.org/massage.


 
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