Massage therapy licensing program already $30,000 in debt

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Rep. John Vander Woude questions Roger Hales about occupational licensing for massage therapists.

“We’re $30,000 in the red now,” Roger Hales testified before the House Health and Welfare Committee Monday.

Hales is the administrative attorney for the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses, and he was asking the committee about approving new licensure requirements for massage therapists. “We’ve incurred a lot of costs in setting up our program, but we’ll come back and ask the Legislature to reduce these fees if we end up with too much money,” he told the committee.

During the open testimony portion of the hearing, Tony Smith, a spokesperson for the Northwest Career Colleges Federation (a consortium of private career colleges in Idaho, Oregon and Washington) told committee members that while his association supported the licensure requirement, it was hoping that the board would eventually increase the licensure process to require 600 hours of training.

The 500 hours of training now required places the requirement for massage therapy licensure well above the training requirements of emergency medical technicians (EMT) in Idaho. According to the Department of Health and Welfare’s website, EMT licensure requires the passage of both written and in-person tests, but also requires the passage of only one semester course, which generally amounts to approximately 50 hours of training.

When Rep. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg, asked Smith why he supported an increase, Smith noted that other states were requiring 600 hours of training. “But you still have not stated why you support that,” Hancey responded. “Why are you suggesting that 600 hours of training be required?”

“For public safety,” Smith replied. “So we have an educated workforce.” After the committee hearing, Smith told IdahoReporter.com that his association represents several schools that provide massage therapy training.

Other requirements entailed in the new massage therapy licensure process require that therapists keep records for a minimum of seven years on every client they see, and follow strict guidelines for disposing of the records; they must refrain from any “provocative” content in their advertising; they must follow specific guidelines on their attire; they are forbidden from having a personal, sexual relationship with clients; and they must refrain from “any verbal and/or nonverbal behavior intended for the purpose of soliciting, receiving, or giving sexual gratification.”

The fees to which Hales was referring have to do with the price one will pay to obtain a massage therapist’s license. Last year, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring massage therapists to obtain a license from the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses. Gov. Butch Otter signed the bill in to law on April 4.

In July of this year, at the beginning of the fiscal year, the newly created massage therapists’ licensing board will begin requiring that massage therapists apply for and obtain the state license, but the fees that the state will charge and many of the other licensure requirements must be approved by the health and welfare committees of both the state House of Representatives, and the state Senate.

During the hearing, Hales explained to the committee members that in formulating the rules, the massage therapy licensing board had already run up a financial debt, despite the fact that the board is required by law to be self funding. The board now proposes that massage therapists be charged a $50 fee to apply for a state license, and $75 for the actual license itself, with the license needing to be renewed every year. “Once the board is adequately funded, we can consider reducing these fees,” Hales told committee members.

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, asked Hales how many licensure applicants were anticipated within the first year of the licensing process. “We’d expect about a thousand, but it could be as few as 500,” Hales replied. “Keep in mind that the board will be very busy processing these applications,” he noted, and suggested that there could be additional costs with processing.

“I’m not sure how or why the board has run up a debt of $30,000 in three months,” Vander Woude told IdahoReporter.com. “I’ve never seen a board like this ask to reduce licensure fees; I’ve seen them ask the Legislature to raise them, but not lower them. I will be watching this very carefully.”

According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), Idaho has now joined 42 other states and the District of Columbia in requiring a license to practice the profession. Suzannah Lindberg, president of the Idaho Chapter of AMTA, was present at Monday’s committee hearing and spoke in favor of it.

After discussions and testimony, the committee unanimously approved the new licensure rules.

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