Thousands of massage therapists in Los Angeles and across the state are rushing to get a certification that will make it easier for them to practice in multiple cities.

The certification process was set up two years ago with the passage of SB 731 by state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach. This bill, sponsored by the California chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association, created a non-profit organization to establish voluntary standardized certification for the estimated 25,000 practicing massage therapists in the state.

Prior to the legislation, each city was responsible for licensing massage therapists; most required the therapists to go through the cumbersome process of getting a police permit. Massage therapists need police permits in many cites in order to help law enforcement tell the difference between legitimate providers and sex services.

Supporters of SB 731 said this system led to confusion among massage therapists. They wanted a voluntary system under which they could get a single certification that would be accepted in every city.

In introducing the legislation, Oropeza pointed to another problem: the proliferation of massage certifications from different organizations. Several trade associations issue their own certifications as do hundreds of vocational training programs. As a result, the value of certification wasn’t obvious to massage customers. A single certification issued in accordance with state law would give provide better assurance for consumers, Oropeza said.

Since the non-profit California Massage Therapy Council formed in September, it has received more than 18,400 applications from massage therapists seeking certification. The council has approved about 11,500, with the remainder pending.

Ahmos Netanel, the council’s chief executive, said state certification is especially important for L.A. massage therapists because of the number of cities in the area.

“Just to drive along Santa Monica Boulevard to your various clients, you would need to get individual permits from Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood,” Netanel said. “That’s a lot of permits to get and then constantly have to renew.”

‘Job-Killer’ Killed

Business groups have stopped a “job killer” bill that would have significantly toughened penalties on employers for environmental and safety violations. The bill, AB 846 by Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, would have increased penalties for many violations and indexed some penalty amounts to inflation. It would have applied to penalties levied by four state agencies: the Department of Pesticide Regulation, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Department of Industrial Relations and the Water Resources Control Board.

But the bill only got support from five of the 12 members of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee on June 29, falling short of the required majority. The other seven members either voted “no” or abstained.

The Assembly bill was sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council. In a letter supporting the bill, the council stated that current penalty levels are often inadequate for deterrence.

“AB 846 is needed to level the playing field for law-abiding businesses,” the NRDC wrote.

But business groups argued that increasing penalty levels during the current economic slowdown would drive up costs for businesses and could force some to lay off employees or shift operations to other states. The California Chamber of Commerce had labeled the bill as one of more than three dozen “job killer” bills.

Amnesty Deadline

Aug. 4 is the deadline for businesses to apply for all required permits from the South Coast Air Quality Management District without having to pay late fees or penalties.

The six-month amnesty was declared in response to the tough economic climate, in order to encourage businesses to get permits for their equipment and operations or renew them.

The “permit application penalty holiday” applies to all businesses and government agencies regulated by the air quality agency, except for very large polluters such as oil refineries.

On its website, the district says the fees waived during the amnesty start at $900 for small equipment like a restaurant charbroiler and go to $5,300 for larger equipment like spray-paint booths.

During the previous amnesty program in 1995 the agency received 600 permit applications, mostly from small businesses.

So far this year, the district had only received about 260 permit applications, according to spokesman Sam Atwood.

“We’d like to think this is because most businesses already have their permits,” he said.

Businesses can request a permit application or find out if a permit is required at the district’s website at www.aqmd.gov or they can call the agency at (909) 396-3385.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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