The Guild and the Council of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Associations (CAOMA) assembled in Sacramento for the Tuesday Jan 12 hearing in the Assembly Business & Professions Committee on Assembly Bill 758 (AB758).
Doing the grunt work. Michelle Lau and this writer spent Monday Jan 11 walking the Capitol building going from office to office of committee members seeking their support with a YES vote the next morning. This is the grunt work of making our case with legislators. Our first of four scheduled meetings was at 10:00 and our final was scheduled for 3:00. We did not leave the Capitol until 5:00. In between we dropped in on other committee members, speaking with the staff of another four legislators.
Counting votes in advance. Our message for support was clear. AB758 would reverse a bill passed in 2014 that outsourced school approval to an entity (ACAOM) outside the state. We emphasized consumer protection which meant leaving the decision to the appropriate state regulatory body – the acupuncture board – legally authorized to protect consumers by approving acupuncture schools. We had made the same arguments in the preceding eight weeks when we met with many of the same legislators in their district offices. As a result of those meetings we garnered two YES votes. We needed eight. The committee Chair who opposed our bill expected to get 10 NO votes. Our bill author was concerned. He did not want to be embarrassed in front of the committee with a bill that had no chance of passing. We said we would work harder.
A failed compromise. Monday afternoon Jan 11 the bill author offered a compromise to the committee Chair. That offer was rejected as “too little too late.” Truth be told, the Chair intended to kill our bill in her committee. Reminding everyone who holds the power is how things go in politics. However, we live in a democracy where officials are elected and that can also be powerful. How to do that? When we met with legislators we told them how many licensed acupuncturists were registered in their districts. Ten of the 14 committee members had more than 200. For a handful of key members the number was 400 to 800!
Tuesday morning the committee Chair called the meeting to order and asked for speakers who supported AB758. The bill author spoke forcefully. He pointed out ACAOM had not disclosed its own harsh USDE review in 2011, and that regulation of California schools should remain in California. Michelle Lau rejected opposition claims that CAOMA is a “make believe” organization. Politics can get dirty. She said CAOMA has been involved in the sponsorship of more than 100 bills for nearly 30 years. She also claimed that representatives of CAOMA member organizations had driven to Sacramento from Los Angeles and Northern California for this meeting (see photo). When it was my turn I pointed out that California is home to 40% of all licensees and half the acupuncture schools in the nation. California should not be “like every other state.” Our third speaker was from the California Federation of Labor which is the lobbyist for organized labor in Sacramento. Cal Fed supports campaigns for many of the ten Democrats on the committee. The opposition spoke which included representatives of ACAOM, CCAOM and CSOMA. The Chair called for those in the audience who supported AB758 to approach the committee and state their support, their name and their organization. Fifteen CAOMA members followed. The Chair asked for those who opposed AB758 to do the same. Not one speaker came up.
Moment of truth. The Chair recommended a NO vote then asked for the roll call. When the Democrat Chair recommends NO the Democrat members are expected to vote the party line. Seven members voted NO on the bill, four voted YES and three voted “not voting.” A 7-7 tie! The “not voting” members included three Democrats. The bill did not advance. However, this vote was a win for the Guild, CAOMA and Cal Fed. We applaud the five Democrats and two Republicans who were not afraid to vote with good policy instead of good politics.
The Guild and CAOMA forged stronger ties by having worked together on this issue for more than a year. Our alliance with the California Federation of Labor was strengthened. Cal Fed stood up for us which lets legislators know our coalition is willing to do the work to support what we believe is right for consumers and our profession. As is the case in politics this story is not finished. There will be more chapters.