How Massage Legislation Works

State legislation, board regulations, and local government ordinances can impact your profession and how you operate your business. Having working knowledge of key words and processes will give you a common understanding of a subject, ensuring you’re on the same page when discussing or reading about an issue.






Understand the Key Terms

Here are a few definitions relating to government you should have in your back pocket.

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What’s in a name? Well, “legislature” can go by many different names, such as General Assembly, General Court, or the State Legislature.


State Legislature
Each state’s legislature is made up of two chambers: the senate and the house (except for Nebraska, which only has one chamber). Senators and representatives/assemblypersons are individuals elected by voters with the purpose of creating the laws that govern each state. Legislative districts are determined through census data collected every 10 years. Both chambers consider bills, some of which originate in each chamber and then cross over to the other chamber. This bill process is detailed in “The Legislative Process”. On occasion, either chamber may have different duties based on state constitutional responsibilities. Both chambers have leadership elected by senators or representatives from respective political parties and committees that specialize in program areas. Chamber leadership, committee leadership, and members are the greatest place for the public and stakeholders to influence legislation.


State Senate
The state senate is usually considered the smaller, upper chamber. Senators have longer terms than representatives or assemblypersons, most serving either four- or six-year terms.


State Assembly
The state house of representatives or assembly is the bigger, lower chamber. Representatives or assemblypersons serve two-year terms in most states.


The purpose of a committee is to consider and provide recommendations as they relate to bills and issues regarding a particular subject. Each chamber has subject-specific committees made up of state legislators who develop specialized knowledge on that subject area. Public testimony is heard in committee.


State Boards and Regulatory Agencies
While a few states are independent, most state boards and regulatory agencies fall under the purview of a state’s governor. They make up an important part of a state government administration. Responsibilities of state boards/state regulatory agencies that oversee massage therapy include managing the licensing and renewal processes, processing disciplinary actions, and rulemaking. State boards propose regulatory changes through the rulemaking process. They can modify the regulations of the profession throughout the year. The rulemaking process is usually faster than the legislative process and regulations are easier to change than laws. Legislatures first set broad policy mandates by passing statutes, then agencies create more detailed regulations through rulemaking.



How a Bill Becomes Law

Bills, or legislative proposals, are introduced during the state legislative session. Below is a general road map of how a bill moves through the legislative process. Keep in mind that each year hundreds of bills are introduced, and it is a daunting prospect for an individual legislator to become knowledgeable about each of those bills. The legislative process is used to remove bills or advance bills through the process, helping determine what is necessary. Typically, only 4 percent of bills introduced become law.


Bill is Introduced

A bill is introduced by an individual senator or assembly member on the floor of the first chamber and is then assigned to a committee.

Bill Goes to Committee

Committee hearings are held where the committee can hear public testimony, move the bill forward to the full originating chamber, propose amendments to the bill, or vote to "kill" the bill. If killed in committee, the bill dies here.

Bill is Debated

If the bill is sent back to the full chamber, the bill is debated by legislators on its merits and voted up or down. The bill may then be assigned to another committee or sent for a third reading on the floor and voted up or down with little or no debate.


Bill is Passed to Second Chamber

If the bill is approved by the first chamber, it is passed on to the second chamber, where the process is repeated.

Bill is Given to the Governor

If the bill is amended during consideration by the second chamber, it goes to a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two chambers. The bill is given to the governor if the differences are resolved and both chambers approve of the amended bill.

Bill Becomes Law or Dies

Once a bill passes all the way through the legislature, the governor can choose to sign, veto, or take no action on the bill. If the governor signs or takes no action, the bill becomes law If a governor vetoes the bill most legislatures have the opportunity to override the veto. If the bill can’t be overridden, the bill is dead.



How a Rule Becomes Law

Most laws passed are written at a level of complexity that can be difficult for the layperson to understand. Clarifying these laws becomes the responsibility of state boards and regulatory agencies, which usually follow the same rulemaking process, detailed below.

A Law Needs Clarification

First, a law is passed that needs clarification by the regulatory process, or the board/agency determines that rule changes are needed.

Public is Notified

At this point, there may be meetings where the board or agency meets to discuss potential changes. The public must be notified of these meetings so constituents are given an opportunity to provide input. However, sometimes the conversation is limited to just board members or agency staff.

Draft Rules are Submitted for Public Comment

Next, the draft rules are submitted for public comment. Once draft rules are submitted, the public has anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on the state, to voice their opinion.

Public commentary can be made in writing or by public testimony. If you plan to provide comments verbally at a hearing, it is smart to also provide written comments, as words on paper are more likely to influence those drafting the regulations.


Comments are Considered

Following the comment period, the board or agency revisits the draft rules and determines what they want to do with comments received from the public.

Rules are Approved by a Regulatory Agency

Some states must have the rules approved by a regulatory agency or the legislature and governor before they become final.

Rules Become Final

The rules become final upon reconciling the proposed rules with public commentary.


woman holding a microphoneNot all states have massage therapy boards. Some have regulatory agencies that do not have regular meetings; however, the rulemaking process is usually the same. Serving on your state’s massage therapy board is a way to influence the profession. Consider applying for a vacant board seat!


Washington Massage Board Vacancies

The State Department of Health and the Washington Massage Board are seeking licensed massage therapists to fill professional member vacancies. Apply before the June 30 deadline.

Maryland Bills Add Instruments, License Requirements, Practice Violations

In May, Governor Wes Moore signed into law two bills affecting massage therapy. House Bill 1497 allows instrument-assisted techniques, amends the license reinstatement process, and adds a new requirement for some licensure applicants. House Bill 1498 addresses unauthorized practice violations.


Julie Plachta: Serving the Underserved

Woman massages a client who is lying facedown on a massage table.

As we get closer to celebrating Massage Is for EveryBody, July 14–20, 2024, we wanted to share more of Julie Plachta’s story, which exemplifies the inclusive values of this campaign.


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