Ep 94 – Get Involved! Talking Government Relations with Laura Embleton

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ABMP Director of Government Relations Laura Embleton joins the podcast to tell us about the advocacy work her team does to support individual practitioners across all 50 states. Laura’s goal is to ensure fair legislation is enacted without overburdening practitioners. We discuss her battle with illicit businesses operating under the guise of massage therapy, human trafficking, media and states usage of the term massage parlors, and, most importantly, how individual practitioners can get involved to make a difference.


Advocacy email template (PDF):


Author Images: 
Laura Embleton, ABMP director of government relations
Author Bio: 

Laura Embleton is director of government relations for ABMP.


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Full Transcript: 

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0:01:18.2 Speaker 2: Welcome to The ABMP podcast. My name is Darren Buford, I'm Editor-in-Chief of massage and bodywork magazine and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP.

0:01:25.9 Speaker 3: And I'm Kristin Coverly, licensed massage therapist and ABMP's Director of Professional Education.

0:01:31.2 Speaker 2: Kristin, before we start our podcast today, let me ask you a question, what are ABMP CE socials?

0:01:39.9 Speaker 3: ABMP CE socials are really fun and interactive CE events where learners can come together as a community in ABMP's virtual classroom to interact with each other and the instructors while we all learn and earn CE. And if you're curious, the next event is Wednesday, April 28th, featuring massage business blueprint and their new CE course, a website that works. Join us, learn more and register at abmp.com/CE-socials.

0:02:09.8 S2: Excellent. Our guest today is Laura Embleton. Laura is Director of Government Relations for ABMP. Hello, Laura, and hello, Kristin.

0:02:17.3 Speaker 4: Hi guys.

0:02:18.5 S3: Hi Laura, thank you so much for being with us. It's really fun, everyone we've been working at home, everyone at ABMP, so it's really fun for Darren and I to have this opportunity to interact with Laura since we haven't been seeing each other in the hallways at work, so we're grateful that you're with us. Thank you for taking the time.

0:02:34.8 Speaker 4: Well, thanks for the invitation. I'm looking forward to it.

0:02:38.7 S3: Laura, let's start by introducing you to our listeners, please tell us about your background, how did you get involved in government relations, and find your way to ABMP?

0:02:46.7 S4: So I'm a Colorado native. All the education I've got is in Colorado. I went to Arapahoe High School, CU undergrad, did law. I left the state for six months to go to DC where I thought I was gonna take over the world, and then the humidity hit and I was home by June. So I have always been interested in government relations, and when I was in eighth grade, I knew who the lieutenant governor was in Colorado, I knew who the state legislators were. I knew I always wanted to get into this. So I went to law school to change the World, and then realized that wasn't gonna happen. So I lost my way and did insurance defense litigation for about eight years. I got out of that and then started editing law books for the Colorado Bar Association. And then my daughter was born and I came home to take care of her. And in that part, I found one of the loves of my life, which was a leadership training program, where I would drag 40 people a year around the state of Colorado, six months, 10 weekends over six months, and we would talk about various issues in Colorado. And I am about an inch deep in about 50 different policy areas, but one of our current congresspersons is one of my alumni.

0:03:58.3 S4: I've had mayors that are alumni of mine, and I'm super proud of the job I did there. So then I went after that and worked at The Dumb Friends League for a couple of years doing animal welfare work, and then Jane Robinson was in this position before I was, is one of my alumni from that leadership program, and I heard that she had left and I applied and I gratefully and thankfully got this job, and I really enjoy doing this job because I love advocating for people, and this gives me the opportunity to advocate for people that don't always have a voice, so... It's very exciting.

0:04:37.0 S2: Excellent, we love what you do, and I know our members do too. Laura, tell us a little bit about what ABMP's government relations team does, 'cause sometimes you can be really out-front advocating, and sometimes you can be the team behind the scenes. Tell us about that.

0:04:53.0 S4: So we do... There's... We're a team of one and a half to one and three quarters, depending on the week and how busy we are, and we watch all the regulations and watch the legislation during the legislative session time, and analyze the laws that are coming down and how they affect us and if they are good. And we're looking at things from human trafficking laws and are they denigrating massage therapists and that, it can be a board clean-up bill, it can be... I don't know, a whole host of things.

0:05:23.4 S4: And then we also track the regulation, and so there's different ways for our community and our membership to talk to the legislators under the regulators, and so if there's a hearing coming up on a bill that's really important, we might send an advocacy email out to our members there. Likewise, when regulation comes up, there's always a public hearing, and so we'll let people know, there's a long lead time for that, so we'll let people know, "Oh, hey, there's this hearing coming up on this date, you can submit your comments in writing or you can attend in public or virtual, as the case may be, right now." We also, in the time of covid, it sounds like a novel...

0:06:09.0 S3: An awful, horrible novel.

0:06:09.8 S4: I'm sorry, we're way on top of what's going on with the shutdowns initially and then the re-openings and we still are updating our covid web page, which is open to the public on the ABMP website that's constantly being... Still being updated with mask mandates dropping or with the capacity increasing. And so we're trying to stay on top of all of that too. So we do all of that, plus, I attend board meetings. Today is the first day this week I'm not in a state board meeting. I was in board meetings for the past two days in Nevada. And so what... Another thing that I do is I help boards to make sure that they're not over-regulating massage therapists, to help guide them through their regulations when they're drafting and that's when I can have the biggest impact.

0:07:02.0 S4: And likewise some of these board clean-up bills that have been going through the legislature this year, I helped draft some of them. So there's establishment licensing in it, I get it so that sole practitioners are not included in that, and that they're exempt from that requirement. So I try to work on the drafting to try to mitigate... A lot of what we do is mitigation and while we might not always win, at least we made it less bad.

0:07:29.6 S2: Laura, I know pre-covid, you kinda held the ABMP travel record, right?

0:07:36.2 S4: Yeah.

0:07:38.4 S2: Can you give listeners an idea how much you're out there advocating?

0:07:41.7 S4: Yeah, so I used to fly around to the board meetings, I am a person... Why I think I'm so good at my job is I try to bring people to consensus. When I advocate, I don't hardly ever run in there and start screaming at people, but I will sit in the back and make little comments here and there and let them know that I'm there to help and then help them guide them through their regulation making. And so it's really important for me to be in these board meetings, not only to meet the board members 'cause I'm seeing them on Zoom, but it's to meet and build teams and the people that are in the public that are sitting in the board meetings. So I meet school owners, I meet lobbyists, I meet all those people, and then we can all work as a team to try to help guide the Board as they move forward. And so it's super important for me, and I can't wait till we get back out there to start traveling, because a lot of what we do is the team making.

0:08:40.1 S2: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors. Anatomy Trains is excited to invite you to another exciting two-day dissection livestream specialty class. Deep dive into joints. April 24th and 25th. This advanced dissection livestream education experience is presented by Tom Myers and master dissector, Todd Garcia. In this two-day event, we will examine the blended nature of support for each of the joint areas. The Special dissection livestream format allows us to explore more deeply subjects and areas of interest. Visit Anatomytrains.com for details. Now, let's get back to the podcast. Laura, what is ABMP's stance on human trafficking legislation?

0:09:21.6 S4: This has been the biggest issue that I seem to work on in the post-licensure world, and it is that the massage therapist should not have to pay for the establishment licensing, you're already paying for your own personal license to practice massage. You've gone to school, you've gotten your hours in, and you passed a national exam in most states, and so why should you have to pay for going after illicit sex businesses?

0:09:51.4 S3: Laura what does ABMP think are some effective ways to counteract the issue of illicit businesses operating under the guise of massage therapy?

0:10:02.0 S4: Over the years, as we've become more educated, our position has changed, and so where we're at right now, where I'm at right now, is that this belongs in the criminal code, it does not belong in the practice act. We need to go after... If this is what the community or the state wants to do, we need to have in the criminal code, a heavy fine, like $5000 or above for owners or managers who knowingly hire someone who's not a licensed massage therapist to work in a place that says they're doing massage. So that, I think, needs to happen. And then there needs to be a misdemeanor, like the highest misdemeanor, I'm not a criminal lawyer, so I'm not quite sure how the criminal code works, but we need to have a misdemeanor that would be jailable. So if somebody was accused and found guilty of hiring somebody who's not a licensed professional in a place that says they're doing massage, there would be some jail time. And that's where I would like to see us going.

0:11:04.8 S4: There are certain ordinances, we also work with cities and communities all over the country on local ordinances, and there's some great local ordinances, but again, those ordinances don't belong under a thing saying massage businesses under the sex businesses in the city, it belongs in the criminal code where with some nuisance, referring back to the nuisance laws for the local community.

0:11:30.5 S2: And then Laura, I know this is something that we deal with quite a bit on the communication side, but tell me from a government relation side, what does ABMP say to media outlets who use words like massage parlors?

0:11:42.8 S4: Well, this year, I told the New Jersey Department of Health that none of our members work in a massage parlor, that they are sex parlors. Let's just call them what they are, they're not illicit massage businesses, they're illicit sex businesses. So the question is, does the community wanna engage in that? Nobody, none of our members work in massage parlors, and so we work to get them to realize that we are massage businesses, that we are health professionals in many states that recognize these health professionals, and they are not engaged in the sex business. 99.5% of licensed massage therapists are not engaging in sex.

0:12:25.2 S2: The term massage parlors comes up a lot with regards to the media, you'll see it pop up all the time. In fact, we had a really awesome member reach out to me about two weeks ago, and she wrote a letter to the New York Times suggesting... But please stop using this phrase and you don't know the damage that it could possibly be doing to our profession. And then I am always writing, I had a PR person who wrote... Sent me an email last week and used the term and used the term masseuse, and sometimes that can make us uncomfortable or cringe when we hear that term, and then I immediately wrote back to the PR person, "Please stop using that," and he was excellent because he wrote back and goes, "Oh my God, thank you so much, I didn't even know that that was an inappropriate way, or wasn't kosher to refer to massage therapists in that manner."

0:13:13.0 S4: Yeah, we work with that all the time. Well, the news outlets that I listen to a lot started using massage businesses when referring to what was going on in Atlanta, and thankfully, they didn't use that language. It's something that we've been fighting for years and years to get a hold of somebody at the national newspapers or something like that, to just say, "Quit using parlors." It's really interesting, in Texas, there's a couple of bills going through where they took out the word massage parlor and really said "This is a sex parlor," and there's a couple of bills going through Texas cleaning that up right now. And then there's other bills that refer to... Anybody under the age of 21 can't go into a massage business or something like that, or it's not really a massage business, it's a massage business that violated the massage practice act. So they're not referring to the rest of us, but the fact of the matter that we're still in there, drives me nuts. So that's gonna be my next thing is go through all of this Texas code that refers to massage therapy and then contact people at TDLR and say, "Let's get this all cleaned up."

0:14:21.5 S2: Laura, what do we say to a state trying to legislate prostitution through massage?

0:14:25.6 S4: That it just... I mean, I write letters, I go to meetings. This is not where it goes, it does not belong in the massage practice act, it belongs in the criminal code. I help states with that. It doesn't belong necessarily with counties, there was a bill that went through Maryland a couple of years ago where I was opposing, 'cause it was giving the counties the right to regulate the massage businesses, and the chair of the legislative committee called me and said, "That's not what's happening." And I'm like, "Okay," and she's like, "If it does start happening or it gets really bad, then call me and we'll fix this."

0:15:05.1 S4: So we fight and fight and fight. It's interesting that in 2017, there were a bunch of establishment licensing bills that went through, and I don't think it's had an impact at all four years later on how they're addressing prostitution. I think I heard recently that one of the states that passed it hasn't even started inspections yet, and it passed four years ago, so there's not... This is not the way to do it. The boards are ill-equipped to do this, they don't have enough funding, and we don't want them to raise their fees to go accomplish this, so let's just fix the laws and get the local governments to enforce criminal law, it does not belong in the practice act.

0:15:51.5 S4: Another thing that we focus on with the states is fees, when they're going through their budgets and they are underwater with their budgets, we help guide them, 'cause we know that they need to maybe increase fees, but we also need them to know where our members are. And so we work with them on trying to mitigate the fees. And the stuff that drives me nuts is when they put in these establishment licensing, then there's additional fees that have to be charged so that the board can regulate the establishments, and I am... I really fight hard not to get that in.

0:16:27.2 S3: Laura, what can individual massage therapists and body workers do to get involved and become part of enacting change in our profession?

0:16:35.3 S4: So we have... If people wanna email me at Gr@abmp.com, we can add you to a list of advocates in the states, we've got a list of advocates that can help us kind of like if there's a lot of times in the legislative process, there's a hearing that comes up really quick, like we might have two days notice or a one day's notice that there's a hearing. And so it's hard to send an action letter out to all of our members, but if we have a list of members in that state, who are willing to do that, then we could pin team really quickly, this is a way that we can get you activated. We can help you learn how to talk to legislators, talk to City Council members, because a lot of times when they're doing this establishment licensing stuff, it's gonna be at the local community level.

0:17:18.3 S4: Everybody puts their pants on the same way. So we encourage people when they're advocating, to just know that you have your own truth, that you know how to speak your own truth, and that you can go tell somebody in two succinct minutes or less, keep it short, keep it to the point, get in there, get out. In the off-seasons when they're not really in the legislative session, you can talk to your local senator or your local assembly person or representative and say, this is... I am a massage therapist. This is what I do. This is not what I do. And when you have stuff that comes up, know that I'm your constituent and I vote for you, and this is the position that I come from."

0:18:03.5 S4: So I think that that can be powerful. We have an action letter at the end of our action emails, that's a little bit of a template for our members to be able to contact their legislator, we have ways to go find your legislator. If you're interested in finding them, again, just shoot us an email at gr@abmp.com, and we can give you the link on how to find your legislator and your senator, it takes me just a couple of minutes to look it up, and I'm happy to help you out with that. And then just like I said, help us be an advocate for you.

0:18:36.4 S4: So if you wanna come in and help us out with the advocacy efforts, we can get a list going and contact you if there's anything going on. Another way that people can get involved is all the time, there are board member openings, and most boards have a number of massage therapist spots, and then one or two public members spots. And those don't always come up, but that's a great way to get involved in the practice of massage and help us in those states kind of... Keep the states moving in the right direction.

0:19:09.6 S4: So we try to let our members know when there's a member open, when there's a board membership opening. Sometimes it's the public member, which means that they can't have any relationship with the massage business at all, and so that's somebody that's just from the public, that the governor appoints in many cases, or somebody from the professions and business regulatory agencies. So that's another great way to get involved, attend your board meetings. I know a lot of states, you can get CE credits for attending the board meeting, even if it's virtual. That's a great way, right now, it's all virtual, so just plug in and hang on for a couple of hours. Most of them are really short. Some of them are not. [chuckle]

0:19:53.8 S2: Listeners, I'll put links for everything that Laura has mentioned in the show notes for this episode. I wanna thank our guest today, Laura Embleton, Director of Government Relations for ABMP. To find out more about ABMP's initiatives, visit abmp.com. Listeners, like what you're hearing on the ABMP podcast? Each week we deliver two to three podcasts with interviews with profession leaders and podcasts on anatomy and pathology content. If you're not already an ABMP member, visit abmp.com to join. Living outside the US and love what ABMP offers through continuing education and content? Join at the associate level of membership. Find out more at abmp.com. Thank you, Laura, and thank you, Kristin.

0:20:33.9 S3: Laura, thank you so much, not just for joining us today, but for everything you and your team do to really advocate for the individual massage therapists and the profession. We really appreciate you.

0:20:46.5 S4: Thank you, this has been fun.

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