December 2020 AMTA-WA Government Relations Update
By Diana Thompson, LMT, and Susan Sherman, LMT, AMTA-WA Government Relations Co-Chairs
Happy Holidays to all AMTA-WA members. We know in this time of the pandemic, it can be difficult to find things to celebrate. We celebrate our coming together as members of the massage profession to support our profession and each other. And now, as they say on the late night TV shows—onto the “news.”
Goodbye and thank you to Melanie Stewart. Melanie Stewart, long-time lobbyist for AMTA-WA, has decided to retire from health care lobbying, effective September of this year. Melanie’s contributions to the massage profession cannot be overstated. In addition to helping to pass multiple bills, she also created Massage Awareness Days at the Capitol, which significantly increased the profile of the massage profession among legislators. Finally, she was a tireless advocate for the profession that she loved so much. Melanie will be missed! Going forward Gail McGaffick, who has partnered with Melanie representing AMTA-WA since 2006, will continue in her advocacy role for massage, together with additional support during the sessions.
Washington State Election Results. With a record voter turnout of well over 80% in virtually all 49 counties in our state, voters elected Democrats Jay Inslee to a third term as Governor and Denny Heck as Lieutenant Governor. In legislative races, the numbers of Democrats and Republicans remained unchanged, but reflected equal gains and losses on both sides of the aisle. Currently, the Democrats control the Senate with a 27-22 majority, and the House with a 57-41 majority.
The 2021 Legislative Session. The 2021 legislative session begins on January 11. It’s a long 105 day session this year because it’s a biennial budget year. This session will be unique, as it will essentially be all virtual. While a small number of legislators will be in Olympia, most legislators will be working remotely from home or off campus offices. With the exception of these legislators and their staff, no other persons will be allowed on the Capital campus.
These limitations will pose some challenges for AMTA-WA’s lobbying efforts. Instead of in-person contacts, we will need to rely on emails. That’s where you come in. Following President David Phillips request, we will be looking for opportunities to more directly involve AMTA-WA members in legislative advocacy.
Session Priorities. With the pandemic front and center in our daily lives, a major focus of the 2021 session will be on pandemic issues. This includes legislation to streamline or suspend certain laws where lessons learned during the pandemic have illustrated the need for more flexibility. In addition, the Legislature is expected to focus on racial equity, economic recovery, and the global climate crisis. That’s a giant portfolio of issues, consideration of which is made more challenging by the virtual nature of the session.
In terms of health care issues, we know, as usual, there will probably be multiple bills to review on a wide variety of health care topics. Please know that the AMTA-WA Government Relations Committee works very closely with our lobbyist to review and track all relevant issues. During the session, our goal will be to do monthly updates. Specifically, we know that the Department of Health (DOH) is expected to introduce legislation to increase membership on the Board of Massage from five to seven members, by adding one additional LMT and one person who represents massage schools. AMTA-WA is supportive of this change given the large number of LMTs in this state.
Health equity. Legislation will be considered in the 2021 session concerning the topic of health equity. If passed, the legislation would require CE for health care professionals in order “to care effectively for patients from diverse cultures, groups, and communities, varying in race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, age, ability, and socioeconomic standing.” Since the Department of Health (DOH) is the disciplinary authority for the massage profession, DOH will decide on how many hours of CE are required, and whether those hours are in addition to or part of the current CE requirement.
Summary of Work during the Fall of 2020. We also wanted to include a summary of our work during the Fall of 2020. It’s been busy!
Massage Rules. As many of you know, AMTA-WA has been working on updating and improving the massage rules for over six years. We completed the first set of revisions in early 2017, and began the second set several months later. Now, more than three years later, we’re almost to the finish line for the second time. We expect the rules process will be completed later this month, with an effective date for the new rules of September 1, 2021. Between now and then, AMTA-WA will provide information to members on the major rules changes, and if we really get ambitious, we might do a webinar. As soon as the formal document, known as the CR-103, is filed we will post the new rules on this website. As a reminder, hours of massage education will increase from 500 to 625, with some curriculum content and hours changed, and they must be completed in no less than 24 weeks for programs starting on or after September 1, 2021.
Governor Proclamations. Interpreting the Governor’s proclamations has been challenging for the massage profession. Early on in the pandemic we worked tirelessly to get the information our members needed. Now, we’re in the “soup” again with COVID-19 numbers rising quickly, and we’re all wondering—will we have to stop working again? Proclamation 20-24.2 is the latest health care proclamation. It discusses the three phases of care on page three. For now, all regions of the state are in the contingency state. As a reminder this means that: “All appropriate clinical care can be provided so long as there is sufficient access to PPE and, for hospitals, surge capacity is at least 20%.
A caveat. You’ve probably read where hospitals are over 80% full in the Western part of the state. I’ve been told that hospitals are working extremely hard to make sure everyone who needs a bed has a bed. And in addition, before the state would move to the crisis care phase in any region, there would be consideration for the downstream effects to all providers. Part of what the state is doing is working hard to move folks out of hospitals who don’t need to be there. On any given day, that number represents an astonishing 20% of the available beds.
Board of Massage meetings. Since our last update, we have virtually attended, together with AMTA-WA lobbyist Gail McGaffick, two meetings of the Board of Massage (Board).
- CE and audit failures. There is a continuing discussion about the consistently high 50% CE failure audit rate. Please know if you don’t complete your CE, and/or you ignore DOH questions about your CE during an audit, you could lose the license that you’ve worked so hard for. So, please, pay attention to any communication from DOH.
- CE and hands-on requirement. While AMTA-WA supports the hands-on CE requirement in general because massage is a hands on profession, we have advocated strongly for the waiver of this hands-on CE requirement during the pandemic. The Board agreed. This means that while 24 hours of CE is still required every two years, the requirement that eight of those hours must be obtained in direct supervised massage skills is waived. Those eight hours may now be met by completing any combination of the subjects listed in subsection (2) of WAC 246-830-475. This waiver of the hands-on requirement is in effect through June 30, 2021, or until the declared state of emergency issued under Proclamation 20-05 is rescinded, whichever is later. The policy will be re-evaluated at the May 7, 2021 board meeting to determine if an extension of the effective date is necessary. The Board’s official policy statement is being updated. When it’s available, we’ll post.
- Massage school/program applications. At the urging of AMTA-WA, Board staff developed a shortened application to allow already approved massage schools/programs to update their curriculum and hours based on the new rules requirements. AMTA-WA submitted a memorandum with technical corrections, and they were all unanimously accepted by the Board.
- Public members. The Board of Massage has one public member. It’s an important role. The same person has served in that role for the past eight years, but understandably, he wants to step down. Do you know a member of the public who cares about the profession and is willing to spent about four hours every other month attending a meeting? The per diem rate is $50 a meeting. If you do know someone, please ask them to email the Board’s Program Manager Megan Maxey at firstname.lastname@example.org . Thank you!
- Anti-compete covenants/agreements. Recently, we have received questions concerning 2019 legislation on this topic. This legislation is now found in statute as Chapter 49.62 RCW. This legislation regulates noncompetition or anti-compete covenants/agreements. It is very detailed and if you’ve signed such an agreement, and you have questions/concerns as to whether it’s enforceable we recommend you consult with an attorney. The legislation has an unusual retroactive piece in that after the effective date of January 1, 2020, if an employer tries to enforce a noncompetition covenant/agreement that was signed before January 1, 2020, that agreement will be subject to the new law. While the new law narrows what are acceptable noncompetition covenants/agreements, it’s important to note what it doesn’t limit and that is: prohibitions on soliciting the employer’s customers or employer’s other employees and prohibitions on sharing confidential information such as client/patient lists. Again, if you have specific questions about a noncompetition covenant/agreement that you have signed, please contact an attorney.
Please do your part to stop the pandemic. As health care providers, you know better than most the severe risks posed to Washingtonians from COVID-19. This virus, so unlike any other in our lifetimes, has proved stubbornly resistant to all but the most deliberative attempts to stop it. And as we go into the holiday season, we must remain vigilant. Our lives, to include those of our friends and families, as well as our livelihoods—depend on it. Stay safe, and be well. And thank you for your support of our work on behalf of AMTA-WA. It is appreciated!