OTAC Licensure History Timeline
30+ Years of Advocacy Efforts
Pamela DiPasquale-Lehnerz, MS, OTR/L, OTAC Historian
The Occupational Therapy Association of Colorado (OTAC) has worked tirelessly to obtain licensure for both occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants in Colorado. Although it took over 30 years to achieve the goal of licensure, we could not have accomplished it without the OTAC leadership, OTAC lobbyists, and through the funding efforts of the OTAC members!
The following presents a historical timeline of those efforts, with specific legislation introduced indicated in bold text. The highlighted text indicates OTAC's efforts to respond to or endorse legislative activity.
AOTA State Licensing National Efforts
Through a special session of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Delegate Assembly on October 20, 1974, AOTA changed their position of neutrality regarding occupational therapy licensure to one of endorsement. The pursuit of licensure was advanced to “high priority” within the national association.
1974 — 1985
OTAC State Licensure Efforts
Over a ten-year period, the OTAC Licensure Committee and the state association presidential leadership explored and promoted licensure in active state committee meetings. However, there was a climate of anti-regulation in Colorado on the part of the Colorado Legislators which precluded any serious efforts towards licensing. The Colorado Legislature passed a Sunrise Review process in the 1980s which mandated that professions seeking licensing apply and include the rationale for licensing. Additionally, a Sunset Review process passed during this same period which required the profession to substantiate the need for continued licensing in Colorado on a periodic basis.
1986 — 1994
OTAC Sunrise Review Attempts
Repeated attempts for licensure were made by the OTAC Licensure Committee to the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) with proposals to gain support from the to introduce licensure. Those proposals were required for the mandatory Sunrise Review Process. The proposals were denied based on DORA’s stance that consumer protection from OT practitioners was not a demonstrable need in Colorado.
Complete and descriptive DORA proposals were submitted based on recommended guidelines from AOTA. The OTAC Licensure Committee collaborated with AOTA to recommend guidelines using the AOTA Model Practice Act. These descriptive proposals were composed based on data provided by OTAC and AOTA and formed the basis for OTAC’s future regulatory efforts. At the same time the licensure committee tried to gain support from Colorado legislators through personal relationships to introduce regulatory legislation per the Sunrise Review Process.
1996 — 2008
1994 — 1996 OT Trade Act
The OTAC Licensure Committee, which was then changed to the Legislative Committee, continued to explore regulation. It was recommended by the lobbyist at that time that an incremental approach to regulation was plausible. At this point, only regulation of OT’s and not OTA’s were pursued. This strategy was adopted in order to align with other regulated health professionals in our state.
During the 1996 Colorado Legislative session, OT’s gained trade protection through legislation preventing others from using the title “Occupational Therapist”. Educational requirements, supervision standards, and certification were defined as qualifications to use the title. The bill was signed into law by Governor Roy Romer on June 3, 1996.
2002 OT Trade Act Revision
Updated language was introduced to ensure the accuracy of the credentialing process. This included inserting the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and the Master’s degree, since it was previously a Bachelor’s degree, for the educational level under the protective requirements of the title protection regulation for occupational therapists. This was signed by Governor Bill Owens on March 26, 2002.
Registration of Occupational Therapists
2009 — 2012
2006 — 2008 OT Registration
Through OTAC efforts and leadership, a regulatory bill was introduced to establish a registration process at the state level. Registration required DORA to maintain a current list of Occupational Therapists who met qualification guidelines to be registered to practice in Colorado. Instead of a state board, OTAC opted to be governed by a director at DORA. This bill was signed into law June 14, 2008, by Governor Bill Ritter.
SB08-152 Occupational Therapy Practice Act
2013 — 2021
2013 Licensure for OT and OTA
Finally, with the political landscape changes in Colorado, OTAC obtained licensure through the Occupational Therapy Practice Act for both Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapy Assistants. This bill was in effect for 7 years before it underwent the Sunset Renewal process. Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill on June 11, 2013.
2019 — 2021 OT Licensing Renewal
A year-long process was completed with regular meetings of the Legislative Committee along with OTAC lobbyists and testimony to ensure the introduction and passage of regulation. Several updates and edits regarding current language within the profession, to include the title OTD (Doctor of Occupational Therapy) and mental health was made to the practice act with the hard work of state and national associations, OT leaders and research. The bill to renew OT licensure passed unopposed and was signed into law on July 11, 2020.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 constraints and delays in session and committee process, and a subsequent drafting error by Legislative Legal Services, the constitutionality of the passed bill was at stake in the fall of 2020. Due to the delay in signing the bill the expiration of our previous regulation expired. This caused the constitutionality of the legislation to be questioned. The OTAC Legislative Committee and lobbyists as well as the testimony by the OTAC President to the Senate Legislative Legal Services Committee on October 27, 2020 failed in its request to set the bill into the 2020 statute. This request was indefinitely postponed on a close vote by the committee.
Subsequently, the introduction of two similar bills were facilitated by OTAC lobbyists to provide quick resolution of the regulation during a special session. The arguments for passage of the legislation were that the bills met the guidelines for the special session “Governor’s Call” regarding COVID-19 emergency measures and small business relief. The bill was indefinitely postponed at the Senate Finance Committee Meeting with OTAC hearing testimony provided on December 1, 2020, because of a split vote by the committee.
The constitutionality of the bill was ultimately decided by the Colorado Attorney General, Phil Weiser, on December 4, 2020 with the legal opinion of the “winding up process” regarding the original licensure bill, This helped to ensure the legality the bill during the 2021 Legislative Session.
2021 — 2031 OT Licensure Renewed for 10 years
With strong bipartisan backing and the support of DORA for occupational therapy licensure, the bill for renewing licensing of OT’s and OTA’s were ensured for the next decade. The passage of the bill and virtual signing by the Governor Jared Polis was completed on January 21, 2021.