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June 8, 2021

Baker bids to shift professional licensees to DPH

A large brick building with columns and a large gold dome on top sits behind a gate with steps leading up to it. Photo | Flickr | Ajay Suresh The Massachusetts State House

If Gov. Charlie Baker's latest executive branch reorganization becomes a reality, 13 health-related licensing boards and the 88,000 licenses they oversee would be transferred from the Division of Professional Licensure under the umbrella of the Department of Public Health.

That would leave the Division of Professional Licensure with about 492,000 licenses to oversee and would streamline things for applicants, license holders, the public and state regulators, DPL Commissioner Layla D'Emilia told the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee during a hearing on the governor's proposal (H 3774) Monday.

"By transferring these health-related licensing boards to DPH, the commonwealth will be better served and supported by a state agency more appropriately aligned with their areas of expertise. Licensed health professionals will directly benefit from the oversight of DPH, which is staffed by many public health experts and licensed health professionals who regularly work with a myriad of state and federal laws and regulations. This will foster more collaboration and coordination between DPH, the board and licensed health professionals," She said. "This proposal will also benefit consumers of the services provided by these licensed health care professionals. DPH will now effectively serve as a one-stop shop for consumers wishing to obtain information about, or file a complaint about, a licensed health care professional working in the commonwealth. Consumers will benefit from a unified approach to practice standards and consistent enforcement efforts."

The licensing boards that would be transferred include allied health; allied mental health; chiropractors; dietitians and nutritionists; dispensing opticians; hearing instrument specialists; podiatry; optometry; psychologists; social workers; speech pathology and audiology; health officers; and sanitarians.

Dr. Jennifer Warkentin, the director of professional affairs for the Massachusetts Psychological Association, said her organization supports the reorganization because it agrees that the licensing and renewal processes could be streamlined by moving certain boards to DPH.

"Delays can go up to a year, sometimes, in processing applications and this has had the really unfortunate effect of kind of becoming known within the psychological community across the country," she said. "And it's definitely having a negative impact on our ability to recruit really qualified psychologists from out of state, as well as to retain recent graduates within Massachusetts."

Albert Kalter, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiropractic Society, also testified in support of Baker's bill Monday. No one offered live testimony in opposition.

D'Emilia said that the migration of boards from DPL to DPH would take place over an 18-month period during which the two agencies will work out the fine details of the transfer. DPL will provide DPH with staffers and financial resources as part of the transition, she said.

"At this time, DPL anticipates the transfer of approximately 15 full-time employees to DPH -- moving from 1000 Washington Street to 250 Washington Street in Boston -- all of whom currently work in support of the affected boards. This includes administrative staff such as executive directors and board administrators, as well as investigators and attorneys who handle enforcement efforts for those boards. Many of these staff members have years of experience, which will preserve continuity and ensure there is no loss of knowledge in the transfer."

The governor previously proposed moving the 13 licensing boards to DPH's purview in 2019, but the bill he filed last month would also give regulators enhanced authority to investigate license holders, prohibit Level 3 sex offenders from obtaining any license from the DPL or DPH, and allow the DPL to seek criminal prosecution on anyone engaged in unlicensed massage therapy as a way to crack down on human trafficking. Baker also recommended giving the division the authority to compel license holders to produce documents during the course of an investigation, with enhanced civil penalties for failure to cooperate.

"Over the past year, our Administration conducted a comprehensive review of operations and staffing at the Division of Professional Licensure, and implemented significant changes including hiring new staff, improving internal communications and procedures, and strengthening relationships with local law enforcement," Baker said in a statement when he filed the bill. "Our proposed legislation builds on these internal improvements and will serve to further strengthen and improve the operations of this important agency so it can better serve the public."

If the reorganization plan takes effect, DPL would retain oversight of 15 licensing boards covering everything from electricians to massage therapists, as well as 10 boards, bureaus or other governing bodies within the Office of Public Safety and Inspections, and the Office of Private Occupational School Education. To reflect its new suite of responsibilities, DPL would be renamed the Division of Occupational Licensure under Baker's bill.

Baker filed his plan under Article 87 of the state Constitution on May 19. Under that article, executive branch reorganizations require a legislative hearing within 30 days of being filed, a committee vote within 10 days of the hearing, and must receive an up-or-down vote from the Legislature, without amendment, within 60 days or the action takes effect.

Rep. Tackey Chan, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, said at the end of Monday's hearing that the committee cannot amend the governor's bill and plans to issue its report by June 17.

At least two of Baker's previous Article 87 reorganizations -- the 2017 plan that eliminated the Department of Public Safety and established a new Office of Public Safety and Inspections housed within the DPL, and the 2017 creation of the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security -- took effect after the Legislature declined to act on the proposals within the given 60 days.

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