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Senator: Bills to eliminate state massage board address finances, don't remove...

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Apr 23, 2013
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Kristi L Nelson Knoxville News Sentinel

Published 8:00 AM EST Feb 13, 2019

Adam Brown remembers how hard it was, 15 years ago, to get the public to understand that licensed massage therapy is a legitimate career field.

More than 20 years ago, Brown — owner of Tennessee School of Beauty, founded by his great-grandmother — opened its companion school, Tennessee School of Therapeutic Massage.

This was around the time spa services were beginning to go mainstream. Brown would have simply offered massage as part of the beauty school curriculum, he said, except that it had to be overseen by a health-related state board.

Now Brown worries that oversight may be in jeopardy, as a proposed Senate bill and companion House bill appears to do away with the state’s Massage Licensure Board in June.

“This industry in particular needs to be heavily regulated and have a lot of oversight,” Brown said.

At issue are Tennessee Senate Bill 161 and its companion House Bill 492, sponsored by State Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville. The bills are part of a large group of proposed legislation addressing "sunset laws" for various governmental oversight boards. Most of the proposed bills extend the life of various boards, but these two bills accelerate the end of the Massage Licensure Board from June 30, 2022, to this coming June. Another bill sets the termination of the state board of medical examiners for this June, instead of 2022.

Asked for comment, Daniel sent a statement from Sen. Kerry Roberts, chairman of the Government Operations Committee and sponsor of Senate Bill 161.

In it, Roberts explained that the bills deal with a procedural matter: the requirement, by Tennessee law, of licensing boards to be financially self-sufficient.

For the past two years, the board has run at a financial deficit, Roberts said, which automatically requires it to have a hearing before the Government Operations Committee to explain their deficits and present a plan to fix it.

The board is scheduled for that hearing at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time Feb. 25 in House Hearing Room III of the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville.

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"Ideally, the hearing would be held prior to filing a sunset bill (which could shorten or extend the sunset of a board)," Roberts said in his comments. "However, the bill filing deadline for 2019 is prior to the hearing. Thus, SB0161 was filed as a precautionary piece of legislation. Should the Board present an effective plan for addressing the deficits, we don’t anticipate any adverse action."

A contact-your-legislator campaign spearheaded by the trade group the American Massage Therapy Association has resulted in public interest in the process.

"Let me assure you that we’re on the side of licensed massage therapists by requiring accountability from the Board," Roberts said. "No licensed massage therapist's job is in jeopardy, nor is there any effort underway to deregulate licensed massage therapists."

Roberts suggested licensed massage therapists call Massage Licensure Board Director Kimberly Hodge, 615-253-2111 or [email protected], to inquire how the board plans to address the deficit — by decreasing expenses or raising licensure fees.

A spreadsheet of the board's direct expenses show the largest cost, $197,588.31 in fiscal year 2018 and $184,769.02 in 2017, went to employee salaries, wages and benefits. Three other major cost categories were grants and subsidies ($97,758.62 in 2018, $123,195.86 in 2017); professional services and dues ($22,327.08 in 2018, $10,533.71 in 2017); and travel ($20,009.05 in 2018, $19,943.98 in 2017).

In fiscal year 2018, the board allocated $40,939.52 for administration, $117,388.12 for investigations, and $219,558.89 for legal expenses.

Its total 2018 expenditures, $752,593.55, were more than its total revenue, $700,299.33. In 2017, revenue was $118,594.35 less than expenditures.

Licensed massage therapist Robin Nelson, continuing education coordinator at Tennessee School of Therapeutic Massage, said LMTs pay an initial fee upon becoming licensed, and another fee every two years to continue to practice.

While she questions why the board would be in deficit, she's relieved there's not a movement to eliminate licensing.

"Schools like ours, we pride ourselves on teaching these students professionalism, integrity and preparing them for the working world," Nelson said. "Without a board to regulate that, it opens up a lot of doors that could be very dangerous to the public," including having people practice massage without proper training, or who might have a background that poses danger to the public — such as a sexual predator.

"When people haven’t had the training that they need, they could definitely hurt someone," Nelson said. Licensing "helps keep the public safe."

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