HARRISBURG - A state House panel unanimously approved legislation yesterday that for the first time would require Pennsylvania massage therapists to be licensed.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith McCall (D., Carbon), calls for licensing massage therapists who have attended 600 hours of school in a program approved by a newly created oversight board. Licensees would then need 24 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their licenses.

"After so many years of almost getting it done, it's . . . great to see the bill to treat massage therapists as the health-care professionals they are finally moving into position to become law," McCall spokesman Bob Caton said yesterday.

The proposal, which passed the House Professional Licensure Committee yesterday, has circulated in the legislature for more than 15 years. It would add massage therapy to a list of more than 200 professions the state licenses.

If signed into law, it would also supersede any local or municipal regulations on massage therapists.

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

Historically, the proposal to license massage therapists has faced obstacles from chiropractors and physical therapists, who were concerned with how the bill defined the job of a massage therapist.

It was also opposed by previous governors, who refused to create new licensing boards, Caton said.

Caton said yesterday that "those obstacles have been dealt with to the satisfaction of all parties. . . . We're confident Appropriations will move the legislation quickly so it can come to the House floor for a vote."

Sara Morris, a massage therapist with Advanced Chiropractic on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, said licensing therapists would create "a clear difference in those who are educated and those who have different intentions."

"Right now, anyone can call themselves a massage therapist, so you don't know what kind of situation you're putting yourself into," Morris said.