Legal Alerts Sep 29, 2014

New Law Expands Local Control Over Massage Industry

Law Revises Legislation Set to Sunset This Year

A new law substantially revises the state’s regulation over the massage industry, including expanding cities’ and counties’ ability to regulate massage therapists and establishments within their jurisdictions. Importantly, Assembly Bill 1147, signed recently by Gov. Jerry Brown, allows local agencies to impose reasonable zoning, business licensing and health and safety requirements for massage businesses, with some exceptions. This law revises prior legislation, set to sunset this year, that restricted local agencies’ ability to regulate massage businesses, including entitling these businesses to special zoning protections.

In 2008, the Legislature adopted Senate Bill 731, which created a state-organized nonprofit organization to regulate the massage industry: the California Massage Therapy Council. Under SB 731, and later bills that revised its terms, the CAMTC was given the ability to issue voluntary massage therapist certifications. CAMTC-licensed therapists and establishments only employing CAMTC-licensed therapists were then entitled to special land use, operational and licensing benefits and protections. For example, massage businesses could only be subject to land use regulations that were uniformly applied to all other individuals and businesses providing professional services as defined in the Corporations Code. This legislation is set to expire on Jan. 1.

SB 731 was widely criticized by local agencies as providing massage businesses with almost unprecedented protection from local zoning and land use authority, and interfering with local law enforcement efforts to close massage businesses allowing prostitution and other illegal activities. Given the upcoming sunset date for SB 731, the League of California Cities and other stakeholders worked tirelessly to restore local control. AB 1147 is the result of these efforts.

In addition to revising internal CAMTC processes and permitting requirements, AB 1147 makes important changes regarding how local agencies can regulate and police massage businesses. Importantly, cities and counties can now adopt local zoning, business licensing and reasonable health and safety requirements with some relatively minor exceptions (examples noted below).

From a land use perspective, local agencies cannot define massage establishments as adult businesses. In addition, they cannot require a special massage therapist permit or license for CAMTC-licensed therapists. Lastly, AB 1147 limits local agencies’ ability to prohibit massage techniques permitted by the CAMTC and state law, impose some dress code requirements for clients and therapists and require some internal building standards that interfere with client privacy or building security. AB 1147 will take effect on Jan. 1 and will sunset on Jan. 1, 2017, unless extended by later legislation.

Local agencies that revised their massage ordinances due to SB 731 should consider amending their ordinance to take advantage of the new powers granted by AB 1147, especially the expanded zoning authority.

For more details regarding the impact of this legislation, please contact one of the attorney authors of this legal alert listed at the right in the Municipal Law practice group, or your BB&K attorney.

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