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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

MTTAC Review & Legislative Update

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Today (3/20/23) the Massage Therapy Technical Advisory Committee will meet to hold their first quarterly meeting of 2023 at 9am in Little Rock, Arkansas. Today's blog post is to review their last meeting from December 2022 and discuss the recent new legislative acts in Arkansas that directly impact massage therapy.

Since this is my very first deep dive into MTTAC, I think it's appropriate to give some backstory on what MTTAC is and how we got here, in the simplest way. In April of 2015, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a bill into law that abolished the Arkansas State Board of Massage Therapy (ASBMT) and transferred the profession to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). Massage was placed under the section with Cosmetology and Body Art/Piercings. We went from having our own independent Board to having a Massage Therapy Technical Advisory Committee. That is an important distinction to remember. The MTTAC and its members advise and make recommendations to the Department of Health which reports those to the Board of Health.

December 2022- MTTAC Review:

In December, MTTAC approved several Continuing Education (CE) Applications from many different applicants. This is a common function of MTTAC and often the bulk of their discussion and advice. There was also a Pre-Licensure Petition, where a potential licensee request their criminal background history not impede their ability to obtain a massage license once completing other licensing requirements. As I recall, there was auditory complications that made the Petition unable to proceed at the time. In addition, there was a legal hearing held regarding a therapist who had been a accused of sexual misconduct- MTTAC voted to suspend the therapists' license until adjudication is determined by a court against the therapist.

The Ad Hoc Committees (which consisted of some MTTAC members but largely of volunteers who weren't on the full MTTAC) who had been holding regular meetings since July and concluded in November, made their official recommendations to the full official MTTAC. Ad Hoc loosely translates to mean "Just This", the focus of these individual sub-committees was very specific and narrow. The Exam Ad Hoc was tasked to

1) explore the viability of the current three exams for graduate of massage therapy schools or apprenticeship programs,

2) evaluate any exams as appropriate for either or both of those kind of graduates, &

3) submit recommendations back to MTTAC which exams should be required for massage licensure in Arkansas. At December's meeting, MTTAC voted to adopt the Exam Ad Hoc's recommendation to develop/create an Arkansas State Licensing Exam for Massage- the recommendation was then to be reported to the state Board of Health.

The Licensure Level Ad Hoc was tasked to

1) evaluate the benefits of a tiered licensure types for massage between spa/relaxation and medically focused licenses,

2) evaluate the training and curriculum requirements for each tier, &

3) make recommendations back to MTTAC of a multi-tiered licensure program. In the end, the Licensure Level Ad Hoc didn't have much to report in the way of recommendations other than specified minimum required CE hours for Electro-Stimulation and Manual Lymphatic Drainage modalities, both of which were not adopted by MTTAC. BOTH Ad Hocs recommended to develop/create a Student Permit designation - which has since become law through the state legislature.

I could go on and on - ad nauseam- about my personal opinions regarding the Ad Hoc & MTTAC's final actions and their implications. Suffice it to say, these Ad Hocs and December's MTTAC meetings did not go as I expected. I'd rather stick to the cold, hard facts of what happened for now.

There was also public comments made by representatives of ABMP and FSMTB as well as a few comments from local massage therapists.

March 2023- Legislative Updates:

So that wraps up where MTTAC left us in December, but much has happened in the Arkansas General Assembly since the new year regarding massage therapy.

Act 45 (originally SB58), An Act To Create A Student And Apprentice Level Of Licensing In The Massage Therapy Profession; And For Other Purposes, was introduced by Senator Irvin and co-sponsored by Representative Wardlaw. To quote the highlights of the 8 page bill/act;

* "Massage Therapy Learning Permit" means a permit issued by the Department of Health before enrollment in a massage therapy apprenticeship program or in a massage therapy school that is valid for no longer than six (6) months after completion of the apprenticeship or graduation from the massage therapy school."

* "It shall be unlawful: for any massage therapy school or postsecondary massage therapy school to enroll any person in the massage therapy school or postsecondary school who does not hold a massage therapy learning permit issued by the department."

* "It shall be unlawful: for any massage therapy apprenticeship program to enroll any person in the massage therapy apprenticeship program who does not hold a massage therapy learning permit issued by the department."

Act 45 goes on to set January 1, 2024 as the start time for learning/student massage permits to be issued, going into detail about the requirements to have their permit. It also sets the fee for a learning permit to be $75. Finally, this act states that a person may not practice massage therapy without a valid learning permit or until their official license has been received by the Department of Health.

Act 45 was signed into law by Arkansas Governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders in February. I cannot provide evidence, but I am convinced that Act 45 is a direct result of both Ad Hoc Committees that worked from July to November and found common ground on asking for student/apprentice programs. The major advantage to Act 45 is that background checks can now be made at the front end of the education process, historically background checks take a long time and keep people from beginning their careers. Background checks at enrollment will also protect public clients during the required clinical practice in school's curriculum while also protecting the other students in the classroom.

Act 167 (originally HB1115), An Act To Amend The Definition And Requirements Of A Master Massage Therapist Within The Massage Therapy Act; And For Other Purposes, was introduced by Representative Maddox and co-sponsored by Senator Rice. To quote the highlights of the 2 page bill/act;

* "On or after July 1, 2023, has:

(1) Been an active practicing license and registered as a massage therapist for the period of not less than twelve (12) months preceding the application for an upgrade to master massage therapist; and

(2) Completed not less than three hundred (300) hours of advanced coursework in massage therapy as part of an Associates of Applied Science degree of massage therapy from an accredited college or university."

I must admit that Act 167 has had me scratching my head since January. I have no idea where this bill would have come from or why it is relevant. To my knowledge there is no Associates of Applied Science degree of massage therapy. I'm not sure who is poised to benefit from Act 167- it doesn't create a college degree in massage therapy, just an alternative pathway to upgrading from LMT to MMT. I've never been a proponent for gatekeeping, but this pathway to MMT knocks the 2 year minimum of practicing massage down to 1 year and evades the 125 Continuing Education hours which is often in hands-on techniques. I don't hate this law, but as I said before Act 167 is an enigma to me.

So there we have it, a recap on MTTAC's last meeting and a look at recent legislation that have become law in Arkansas. I'll be back writing in June to recap what MTTAC does today and analyze any new massage legislation.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark, MMT, BCTMB

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