Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) signed Senate Bill 2472 July 2, making Hawaii the 50th and final state to fully license occupational therapists (OTs) and one of the last remaining states to license occupational therapy assistants (OTAs).
This marks a great achievement for the profession and for occupational therapy clients as the new law will elevate occupational therapy practice standards in the state. Licensure protects the public health, safety, and welfare of the clients served by OTs and OTAs; ensures that services are performed by trained and qualified providers; and protects the occupational therapy profession by defining the practice of occupational therapy.
Formerly occupational therapists were registered and occupational therapy assistants were not regulated in Hawaii. The new law repeals the existing occupational therapy registration requirements, creates a new occupational therapy licensure board within the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, revises the definition of the “practice of occupational therapy,” and provides licensure requirements for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. Under the law beginning with the December 31, 2014, renewal period, each active OT registration will be converted to an OT license. The OTA licensure provisions will go into effect January 1, 2017, allowing time for rules to be promulgated and for OTAs to meet new practice requirements.
The final version of the bill passed both chambers of the Hawaii State Legislature with near unanimous support just two days before the legislative session adjourned for the year on May 1. The enactment of this law is the culmination of an advocacy effort that began nearly 20 years ago with the first attempts to get a licensure law in the state. The Occupational Therapy Association of Hawaii and AOTA advocated on behalf of the profession to see this effort through to the Governor’s signature. (Please see AOTA’s letter to the Governor urging action.)
Licensure laws for occupational therapists are now on the books in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. Occupational therapy assistant licensure laws have been enacted in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. New York remains as the only state without an OTA licensure law—the New York State Occupational Therapy Association continues to pursue OTA licensure legislation in 2014. AOTA has worked with state occupational therapy associations to enact state licensure laws across states for more than 40 years.