CA Anti-Prostitution Law Brings Firestorm of Opposition Would Neuter State Board, Return Certification to Police Departments

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A California anti-prostitution bill that essentially forces professional therapists to get police permission to work has been moved on to the state Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Assembly Bill 1822, authored by Assembly Member Sandré Swanson, passed the Business, Professionals and Consumer Protection Committee by an 8-3 vote on April 20. If the bill becomes law it will effectively neuter the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), a two-year-old body that now certifies massage therapy in California

Swanson (D-Alameda), has called the bill an 'urgency statute.' He has also said that 'Justifying the need for this urgency is a recent random sampling of CAMTC applicants, which concluded that the 57 percent of the applicants were known prostitutes and 32 percent had questionable backgrounds that required additional investigation.'

However, the publicly cited sample data used by Swanson and other proponents of the bill, principally police organizations, only describes the backgrounds of applicants.

A very different picture emerges in sample data from CAMTC that shows who actually got work permits.

In reaction to the bill, the Council stated that 'The CAMTC did not approve 25 massage applicants who were approved by the police in San Mateo. More than half (57 percent) of the applicants who were not approved by CAMTC were granted city permits.'

Turning Back The Clock

If enacted, the legislation would result in a return to the old system used in California that required practitioners to be vetted and certified in each jurisdiction where they have clients. Both costly and complicated, the old system was replaced two years ago in favor of a voluntary statewide certification that supporters say has been far more effective in weeding out disreputable and unprofessional people from obtaining permission to work in local jurisdictions.

Swanson and the new bill's supporters claim: 'The bill will have an important impact on reduction of Human Trafficking criminal schemes.'
Richard McElroy, CAMTC board member and a former police officer who investigated illegal massage parlors for more than 25 years, states that the CAMTC's review process is superior to all past methods of vetting massage professionals.

McElroy, who also wrote the Los Angeles Police Department's manual used to abate massage brothels, stated in documents opposed to the bill: '[CAMTC] not only examines the DOJ background report, but pays an additional charge to receive subsequent arrest notification from DOJ when the applicant is arrested at a later date. Local police departments do not.'

The California Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), worked closely with the legislature and all stakeholders in the massage industry, including law enforcement, in the creation of SB 731, passed in 2008. The intention of SB 731 was to provide a system that would clearly differentiate between legitimate massage practitioners and criminal actors seeking to co-opt their title. Having such a system gives law enforcement an additional tool in combating human trafficking, because it establishes a central clearinghouse of information on applicants around the state, and offers a clear, verifiable measure of a massage therapist's credibility: certification through the CAMTC.

According to CAMTC's Chairperson Beverly May: 'AMTA-CA, as sponsor, spent over six years working with legislative members and staff as well as other stakeholders, to draft SB 731. We participated in a series of Taskforce meetings with vice officers arranged by the League of CA Cities.

'Business and Professions Code Section 4600 is the result of years of research and negotiation. The law contains some very powerful enforcement provisions. Notably, in response to city concerns about schools selling certificates, and the Sunset of the BPPVE, we made sure that the law allows the CA Massage Therapy Council the right to investigate if we have reason to suspect that an applicant has not received the education claimed.

'We have not approved any applications over the objection of local police. Quite the opposite - we have denied certifications to a great many applicants who already have city permits.'

According to the AMTA: 'SB 731 created voluntary certification through the [CAMTC], which is already providing a rigorous alternative to the haphazard patchwork of local regulations that has let illegal businesses flourish in California cities for too long.

'SB 731 represented six years of work in the Legislature and with every stakeholder in the massage industry, including law enforcement. AB 1822 entirely undermines the excellent tools and fair regulatory system created by those years of cooperation.

Existing Law

* SB 731 allows investigation of the owners by the city to continue.
* SB 731 clearly makes the business owner responsible for the behavior of staff.
* CAMTC currently denies certification to owners of establishments in which criminal activity has occurred, even if the owner was not involved.
* Cities can issue a 'Registration of Exemption' to establishments in which all massage therapists are certified, and easily revoke the registration for conduct of any staff. This avoids costly abatement and the difficulty of revoking a non-regulatory business license.

'The CAMTC has had the resources and knowledge to deny certification to hundreds of applicants who had slipped past local permitting procedures statewide due to its state and nationwide recourses:

'The CAMTC has unique access to statewide and nationwide resources:

* Extensive reports by the National Certification Board on Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) regarding fraudulent massage schools.
* A full private investigations division overseen by a 32-year veteran of the LAPD.
* Subsequent arrest notification from the DOJ on each applicant, no matter where they move in the state.
* Subscription to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) - records of actions taken against licensed health care professionals nationwide.
* A formal communication system for exchanging information about local applicants with local law enforcement.'

In a letter (dated April 1, 2010) addressed to Swanson from Francisco Lobaco, Legislative Director and Valerie Small Navarro, Senior Legislative Advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union state:

'The ACLU opposes AB 1822, a measure to transfer a greatly expanded background check procedure for massage therapists from a statewide organization to local law enforcement. While we support effective efforts to curb human trafficking and child prostitution, we do not believe that requiring massage therapists to complete background checks by local law enforcement - rather than a statewide organization -- will combat trafficking. Instead, bad actors seeking to avoid detection will operate further underground to avoid subjecting themselves or the girls and women they are trafficking to increased scrutiny by local law enforcement.'

The letter continues: 'We oppose AB 1822 for the following reasons:

* AB 1822 creates a presumption of criminality among certified massage therapy professionals.
* The investigation authorized by AB 1822, including, any 'other information' is overbroad and prone to abuse. In addition, it affords applicants no opportunity to review the information sought and used in making the fitness determination.
* Law enforcement agencies are not equipped to ensure the due process rights of applicants.'

The American Massage Therapy Association, California Chapter is encouraging therapists to send their letters and emails to the Appropriations Committee immediately. A formatted letter of opposition is available on the AMTA-CA Web site at: www.amta-ca.org.

For a list of the Appropriations Committees' phone numbers and emails, go to: www.assembly.ca.gov.