It’s election time and that means it’s also silly season. Georgia Democrats recently ran a campaign ad scorching Secretary of State Brian Kemp for failing to revoke the massage therapy license of a Georgia sex offender. The implication is that he endangered Georgians who enjoy these services.

The campaign video has gone viral and even caught CBS 46’s attention. Their team members decided to investigate the ad’s allegations against Brian Kemp. In the course of their examination, I had an opportunity to speak with CBS 46 about this issue in my capacity as a representative of the Cobb County Solicitor’s office. The truth is the Secretary of State is powerless to suspend or revoke the license of a massage therapist gone bad. Brian Kemp did not do anything wrong.

While professional licensing falls under the Secretary of State’s purview, the process is more complex than meets the eye. Georgia’s licensure process for massage therapists is a complex mix of administrative and criminal law that is difficult to untangle.

The Official Georgia Code Annotated lays out the rules and regulations concerning massage therapy in Georgia. Dig deep enough and you will discover the real authority to regulate massage therapists rests with the Georgia Board of Massage Therapy. The governor appoints its members, not the Secretary of State. In fact, while the Secretary of State coordinates with such licensing boards, he has little, if any, authority over them.

Even though the Democrats’ silly attack ad against Brian Kemp is patently false mudslinging, it does bring out some pressing issues for public safety. There currently is no mechanism under Georgia law to automatically suspend or revoke a massage therapist’s license when the licensee has been convicted of a sex offense. The most common crimes we see in the solicitor’s office related to massage therapist is sexual battery, which is when an individual “intentionally makes physical contact with the intimate parts of the body of another person without the consent of that person.”

Unfortunately, a small minority of massage therapists inappropriately touch their customers during a massage, and that’s when the criminal justice system gets involved. We do all we can to secure justice for the victim, but sadly there is no effective mechanism for us to report the rogue massage therapist to the Georgia Board of Massage Therapy. Since that is the case, you have criminal massage therapists who keep their license or are at the least eligible to get it renewed after they’ve been convicted of a sex offense. As a prosecutor, I find this unacceptable – as should all Georgians.

Georgia needs to do better and here’s how. We can create a system to automatically report criminal arrests and any subsequent convictions to the Georgia Board of Massage Therapy just like we have a system dealing with driver’s licenses and DUIs. What do DUIs and massage therapy have to do with each other? Plenty, especially when it comes to licensing. After all a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right. The same applies to a massage therapy license.

In Georgia, a person charged with DUI who refuses to take the state breath, urine or blood test has their driver’s license suspended administratively by the Georgia Department of Driver’s services pending the outcome of the criminal case. This suspension is an administrative proceeding instead of a criminal one. If the defendant is adjudicated guilty of DUI then notice of the conviction is sent to the Department of Driver’s Services by the clerk of the court automatically. This process ensures the person’s license is suspended by operation of law. The chance of it falling through the cracks is minimal.

Unlawful massage therapists and drunk drivers are a public safety hazard who are cut from the same cloth. We need to protect the public from both. I am hesitant to call for more government regulation. But our legislators must take a close look at this problem and see what they can do to bridge the communication gap I have talked about. A mandatory reporting requirement to the board is a good place to start.

Don’t blame Brian Kemp for this mess. It’s not his fault, but it’s something he can fix as Georgia’s 83rd Governor.


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