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Opportunity for Cities to Help Shape Massage Establishment Regulatory Policy

November 20, 2013
Enacted in 2008, SB 731 (Oropeza, Chapter 384) changed the way cities regulated massage establishments. However, bill provisions are set to sunset Jan. 1, 2015 giving city officials the opportunity to consider and help shape future policies.
The League of California Cities believes that reasonable regulations should be established when the legislation is re-examined. SB 731 created a voluntary certification process for individual massage therapists regulated by the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC). Therapists that opt not to obtain a certification are subject to regulation by the city or county in which they work. The issue is, however, that establishments promoting themselves as only hiring certified massage professionals avoid regulation by the local government.
While there are benefits to having an organization like CAMTC determine the credibility of schools offering massage training and reviewing the licensure of individual massage therapists, cities have also seen some unintended consequences stemming from this legislation.
The good news is that with SB 731 set to sunset in 13 months, there is time for cities to get involved, share their experiences (positive and negative) and help shape the legislation, which will be needed to extend CAMTC’s authority. The League expects that this policy issue will be hotly debated in 2014 and urges cities to engage in the process. City officials will need to review proposed policies, share their experiences with massage establishments in their communities, in legislative hearings and work to create better policies in this area. The Legislature insisted that SB 731 include a sunset date for the specific purpose of mandating an analysis of how the law worked and what should be improved. Given the impacts such legislation may have, cities should definitely be a part of this.
Since the passage of SB 731, jurisdictions have seen the number of massage establishments grow. This would not be negative except that many of these establishments offer less than legitimate massages. In addition, if a business indicates that they only hire certified employees, cities and counties can’t regulate the business. That’s right — cities and counties can regulate big box stores, fast food restaurants, marijuana dispensaries, doctors’ offices, and pretty much every other business in the local jurisdiction. The problem is a provision in SB 731 states that unless the jurisdiction regulates massage establishments no differently than the requirements that are uniformly applied to other professional services, the jurisdiction cannot regulate the massage industry. 
Cities and counties do not regulate every professional business the same way. Governments place regulations on businesses to address particular issues specific to that business. For example, parking requirements for a doctor’s office may not be the same as a big box store. A jurisdiction may limit the hours of operation for an adult store but not a nail salon.
Another problematic issue for cities is that certification only follows the individual employee and not the owner of the business itself. If law enforcement executes a raid on a business that is using a certified massage therapist that participates in an illicit activity, then CAMTC has the authority to revoke the certification of the individual. Unfortunately, the business itself can continue to operate. The League contends that certification requirements should include the business itself. Establishment owners share the responsibility to ensure that all aspects of the business are legitimate.
Human trafficking is a serious concern for many cities and a number of jurisdictions have been very proactive in this area as a result. Several jurisdictions require massage establishments to register the business in order to obtain a business license. After that, cities spend an inordinate amount of time, money and resources to establish a track record of compliance associated with massage establishments. By the time these jurisdictions move to revoke the business license, the owner of the less than legitimate business changes ownership of the massage establishment, requiring the jurisdiction to start over from square one. 
Huntington Beach is one city that has recently adopted a local ordinance. KCET produced a news story on Huntington Beach’s sting operation on massage establishments. The piece highlights issues both cities and counties are currently facing and is worth watching.
Share Your City’s Experience with the League
Please share your city’s experiences with the League, positive or negative. It’s important to know how this 2008 legislation has affected your community. To get involved, please contact your regional public affairs manager or Kirstin Kolpitcke, the League’s lobbyist on land use issues at (916) 658-8250.

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