Eng’s Chiro Board bill dies

The Assembly version of a bill to reform the state’s Board of Chiropractic Examiners died on Monday. Meanwhile, a similar Senate bill is moving forward.

AB 1137 from Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park, was voted down 9-0 in the Senate Business and Professions Committee chaired by Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles. On Tuesday, the Assembly Business and Professions Committee chaired by Eng approved SB 801, a substantially similar bill authored by Ridley-Thomas, on a 6-3 vote. Each served as principal co-author on the other’s bill.

Both bills were written to rein in the Chiropractic Board, which both legislators say has been behaving unethically. The usually obscure board burst into the news after a contentious March 1 board meeting in which it sought to fire it’s executive director. The dispute has pitted the board, all of whom were appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, against several staffers who have been with the board for years.

SB 801 bill seeks to address these problems by placing the board under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs and subject it to the standard sunset review process, among other changes.

Ridley-Thomas said that he and Eng have been speaking with the California Chiropractic Association. Before the hearing, Eng agreed to take some of the 17 amendments to his bill suggested in a May 22 letter from CCA president John Bueler Jr., including some language limiting the scope of Chiropractic practice. When these changes failed to garner support from the CCA, Ridley-Thomas said, they made a decision to move forward with the stronger Senate bill.

“In many ways it was a test case,” Ridley-Thomas said of the amendment that failed to get support from chiropractors. “They failed the test.”

Cliff Berg, legislative advocate for the CCA, tells a different story. His organization had reached an agreement that Eng would take six amendments. These included an agreement that the board would go under DCA control but prevent the Legislature or DCA from rewriting their scope of practice. At that point the CCA had dropped their opposition, Berg said, but they had not yet agreed with Eng on language.

“How can we agree ahead of time that we’re going to support something when we haven’t even seen the language?” Berg said. “We were moving forward in good faith with Mr. Eng.”

In his letter to Eng, the CCA’s Bueler sought amendments to keep the Chiropractic Board from being administered by the DCA. He also sought to limit future legislative control of the board, including a clause calling for Senate confirmation of board members. The CCA currently is gathering money to fight the Ridley-Thomas bill if and when it reaches voters next year in initiative form.
Charles Davis, president of the International Chiropractors Association of California, said his organization welcomes an audit of the Board because it likely would result in the dismissal of some of the employees the Board has been fighting with. But he objects to many other limits called for in Ridley-Thomas’ bill.

“This bill will not improve the chiropractic profession or the safety of the general public,” Davis said.

On May 31, Ridley-Thomas sent a letter to Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, asking him to cut the Board’s budget in half in order to create pressure for pass SB 801.

Many chiropractors in the state say they the California Medical Association has long sought to undermine their profession. They point to a 1976 resolution under which the board emancipated itself from the DCA and the Board of Medical Examiners, citing systematic antagonism.

“That’s not my fight,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This was not inspired by the CMA. It was inspired by the BCE. They started it. The Legislature has a responsibility to end it.”

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