Change proposed NC Massage Therapy and Body Work Therapy Establishment Licensure

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  NC Senate Bill 548 was passed July 20, 2017 as sponsored by Senator Shirley Randleman (R), Senator Warren Daniel (R), Senator Andrew Brock (R), Senator William Cook (R), and Senator Joyce Waddell (D). The law is "AN ACT STRENGTHENING HUMAN TRAFFICKING LAWS, authorizing the North Carolina Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy to regulate massage and bodywork therapy establishments, REQUIRING MASSAGE AND BODYWORK THERAPISTS TO OBTAIN A STATEWIDE PRIVILEGE LICENSE, AND AUTHORIZING THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES TO STUDY WAYS TO IDENTIFY AND PROTECT VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING."

  The first issue with this law is the initial opener relates massage and bodywork to human trafficking implying that massage and bodywork itself is the cause of human trafficking. 

  The state of North Carolina currently requires massage and bodywork therapists to acquire a state issued license and a privilege license. After September 1st, 2018, they will be required to obtain an establishment license as a third facet operating a legitimate massage and bodywork establishment.  The state issued license is acquired after the therapist attends and completes a 500+ hour accredited massage therapy program approved by the state of North Carolina, passes the National Massage and Body Work Licensure Exam (MBLEX- regulated through the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards; more information can be found here: completes fingerprinting, submits passport photo, submits character letters from other medically licensed individuals to reflect competency, and passes a criminal background check. The second license, the art of healing privilege license, is a $50 tax submitted to the Department of Revenue. Both licenses protocols gives the massage therapist a license for each which is to be displayed openly on the wall of the facility from which they are operating. This is not part of the new law and in popular opinion should be enough to shut down an illicit facility. Massage therapists in North Carolina have duty to report when they discover illicit operations, however it has been drawn to our attention that law enforcement is unable to shut down facilities without only these two licenses due to only being able to write the offenders tickets. We would like to seek more information to understand why this currently is not enough to disenfranchise illegal massage parlors. 

  The current penalty for practicing massage and bodywork without a license is a $50 misdemeanor for an unlicensed individual, however if a licensed massage therapist is caught practicing massage and bodywork on a suspended license the fine resulting is $2,500-3,500 dollars and a permanent revocation of license. The new law moves it from a class F to a class C felony, however there is speculation and concern as to how it will be enforced when current laws are unenforceable. Unregulated areas of bodywork that do not require a license include reflexology, foot soaks or foot spas, and Reiki or energy work. NC Massage & Bodywork Therapists would like to see regulation of these unincorporated areas of bodywork and harsher penalties for unlicensed offenders who are staining their reputation as educated, licensed and regulated individuals, since this is the guise under which many illicit parlors are operating. 

  The newly passed Senate Bill 548 charges NC Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy with coming up with an establishment license to continue to try and combat human trafficking. The board has come up with proposed establishment rules, which were made public March 7th, 2018 by way of posting to the board website without announcement to those whom they regulate. Members of the North Carolina Massage and Bodywork Therapy community, a body of 8,711 active licensees (per the Winter 2017 BMBT Newsletter) have made it their priority to educate and warn one another of the changes to become effective to their profession by September 1st, 2018. Many licensees fear how this new law will effect them.

  The establishment licensure is mandated in § 90‑632.10 and the requirements are fleshed out in § 90‑632.11. (The document in its entirety is located here: Fees for establishment licensure (not to be confused with applicant licensure) include a $20 application fee, a $150 initial license, and $150 inspection fee. Currently much like the other two licenses, the fees are scheduled to go to general funds and not the enforcement of these laws. Massage therapists would like to see this money be allocated to the enforcement of laws pertaining to and protecting their profession.

  Part of the bill includes § 90‑632.19 which mandates facilities hang a Human trafficking public awareness sign in a place that is clearly conspicuous and visible to employees and the public a public awareness sign created and provided by the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission that contains the National Human Trafficking Resource hotline information. Many therapists believes this sign implies that licensed professionals are the issue, when the problem lies outside of the licensure and is a source of embarrassment for the therapist.

   The NC Board of Massage and Bodywork therapy has furtherly made other regulations, which we would like to oppose through § 90‑632.18, which states "Enforcement; injunctive relief against massage and bodywork therapy establishments. The Board may utilize the enforcement and injunctive relief set forth in G.S. 90‑634 and assess civil penalties and disciplinary costs as provided in G.S. 90‑634.1 to address violations of G.S. 90‑632.10 through G.S. 90‑632.17, any rules adopted pursuant to G.S. 90‑632.13, or any other laws or rules applicable to the operation of a massage and bodywork therapy establishment." Their proposals for regulation can be found at A hearing to adopt the rules cited as 21 NCAC 30 .0405, .0703, .1001-.1014 and amend the rules cited as 21 NCAC 30 .0302, .0401, .0701, .0702, .0902, and .0905 will be held on April 19th, 2018 at 1pm at Wells Fargo Capitol Center, 13th Floor Conference Room, 150 Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, NC 27601. Comments are cited to be submitted to Charles P. Wilkins, PO Box 2539, Raleigh, NC 27602; phone (919) 546-0050; email regarding the changes by May 14, 2018.

  Among the heated topics of regulation coming from the Board of Massage and Bodywork therapy include 21 NCAC 30 .1004 for Initial Application, which states that "copies of reports from city or county inspections for fire, safety, health, and sanitation, made within the three months prior to submission of application for approval,' however consultation from local inspectors note that they are already running behind previous to the new additions of massage facilities being added to their work load. This means with the law taking effect September 1st, 2018, all therapists would need inspections by June 1, 2018. Therapists worry that they may have to shut down their businesses while waiting for inspection on top of the cost of inspection and the new fees they are incurring.  

  Another challenge to NC licensed massage therapists includes 21 NCAC 30 .1005 which regulates Establishment Operations number 1, section d regulates that we "provide treatment rooms for massage and bodywork therapy that are least 10 feet by 12 feet in size, with a minimum of three linear feet of open floor space around all sides of the massage treatment table. " Most therapists are in leases, which they cannot get out of at any given moment and the NC Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy does not regulate real estate and tenant law allowing us to be free from those leases. The time frame does not allow us to finish out existing leases without penalties. Another source of concern is price and availability, as many of us office share with either other independently contracted massage therapists or other in-exempt professionals. Many of us, as well as our clientele, feel our current space is adequate and comfortable. Other states attempting to regulate office space, regulate the minimum at 60 square feet. It has been brought to our attention that this portion of the law was not devised on anything short of the idea that illicit behavior does not occur in larger spaces, but smaller spaces. However, a human trafficking advocate disclosed that they recently did a bust with a single solitary massage table in the middle of a large warehouse. We ask that any regulations based on size of treatment rooms be completely removed for this reason. If this portion of the law passes, up to 85% of the states therapists we fear will be unable to practice. This would potentially leave us jobless, unqualified for unemployment (as many are independent contractors in the industry and not employees), force us into bankruptcy, and many would be forced to apply for public assistance. (This percentage is based upon surveys of different populations through out the state and nationwide and their treatment room size.) With complementary alternative medicine now being recognized to help fight the nationwide opioid epidemic, this would also most widely affect the consumer- our clients as the number of practicing therapists will dwindle significantly.

  While we feel two licenses are enough to regulate our profession, we hope that you will back your local massage therapist in asking for fair conditions regarding the third proposed establishment license from the North Carolina Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapist as it many not only put us (the licensed massage and bodywork therapist) out of work, but put you back into pain as a consumer. Thank you for your kindness and support in signing our petition.