Massage Licensing Rubs Special Interests

This article originally was published by Grand Junction’s Free Press on August 4, 2008.

Massage licensing rubs special interests

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

We can rest more soundly knowing that muscle-rubbers will be fingerprinted, fined, and registered with the State of Colorado “in the interest of the public health, safety, and welfare” as “an exercise of the police powers of the state,” as Senate Bill 219 states.

Registering massage therapists, our legislature and governor have told us, “is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety.” What a farce. How did Colorado survive for so many decades without such a program?

Is it any surprise that a July 28 story in the Free Press features glowing endorsements of the law by those whose competitors will now be outlawed?

Marilyn Veselack, owner of the Institute of Therapeutic Massage, told this paper, “This was a long time coming, with the Colorado Coalition of Massage Therapists working for years on trying to get what we think is respect.”

They’ve got “respect” all right: now some of their competitors can be thrown in jail. We’re not sure if that sort of “respect” is closer to that demanded by the Godfather or Rodney Dangerfield.

One way to legally practice massage therapy is to go to “an approved massage school.” Coincidentally, Veselack owns just such a school, which charges $6,000 or $9,000, depending on the program.

Veselack said she currently has around 25 students. The math on that looks pretty good to us, even though Veselack noted that she’s not currently paying herself a salary because of costs of moving and remodeling. We do not doubt her sincerity when she says, “My heart is with teaching,” we just don’t think such teaching should be politically favored.

So what are the pretexts for passing this legislation protecting special interests?

The first is that people are just too stupid to pick a good therapist without the help of the Great Nanny. A big concern is the distinction between real massage therapists and sexually-oriented massage. But we’ve never met anyone who is unaware of this difference. Massage therapists are good about advertising the therapeutic, non-sexual nature of their services.

Prostitution is a separate legal issue that should not be addressed through laws for therapists.

Your senior author’s wife, Sharon, has used massage therapists for many years. Sharon asks friends, doctors and other therapists about the qualities and professionalism of therapists. Most clinics advertise high standards. You wouldn’t buy a used car, hire a maid, or go on a date without checking into things; why would you treat massage any differently?

Ari once worked as an unlicensed tutor. He just hired an unlicensed house inspector. In a market, people are free to investigate services, solicit advice, and spend or withhold funds from whatever providers they see fit. Generally, people reward good service with their business.

Certification is no guarantee of quality: Ari has had some dreadful massages from certified therapists. Nevertheless, all the therapists we’ve ever hired and evaluated are certified, as that at least indicates a basic level of training. Yet there may be somebody, for instance, who has expertly practiced massage for many years in another country who is now subject to new barriers to entry here. The new law violates the right of contract between therapists and willing clients.

It’s fraudulent to claim certification or expertise where none exists, and fraud is already against the law. We fully support certification by voluntary groups, much as Underwriters Laboratories certifies electrical appliances.

Veselack suggested that we “talk to the police department,” especially in Colorado Springs, about human trafficking and other problems involving massage and nail parlors. Grand Junction Police Sergeant Bill Baker said massage is “not something we’ve been getting calls on.”

In Colorado Springs, Lieutenant David Whitlock said he he hadn’t heard of the bill. City Attorney Will Bain said, “I don’t know anything about it.” Sergeant Creighton Brandt said his department “didn’t have any direct or even peripheral involvement in the passage of the legislation,” though a lobbyist may have weighed in. The El Paso Sheriff’s office didn’t return our call before deadline.

Where human trafficking is a problem, obviously that’s already illegal, and it should be addressed directly, not by registering all massage therapists.

Another excuse for passing the law is that it preempts a patchwork of arbitrary and conflicting local ordinances. We agree that preemption is a good idea in such cases, but such state-level preemption should free people from political controls, not subject them to more.

You may not think that registering massage therapists is a big deal. But our liberty is not dying by a single massive assault, it is dying by a million tiny cuts, with more every year. Such laws entrench protectionism and promote special-interest warfare. They give politicians ever-greater power over our lives. And they train citizens to think and act as children, dependent on the political class for their day-to-day decisions.

What we need is some liberty therapy.