The Senate’s top two Democrats will introduce a bill dissolving and reforming the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners after the body dismissed Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s motion to block the reinstatement of a sex offender’s license.
“If the board can’t be trusted to make responsible licensing decisions that protect the safety of New Jerseyans, the Legislature will make wholesale reforms to the board itself,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). “We need to restructure the board to include more public members who have the public’s interests at heart and fewer self-interested members from the chiropractic industry. We have to bring more transparency and accountability to restore public trust.”
The board stirred controversy in November, when it voted to reinstate the license of Paramus resident Bryan Bajakian, who in 2008 was convicted on charges of luring or enticing underage girls and illegally possessing a firearm.
He was accused sexual misconduct against an underage patient and admitted to the board keeping child pornography, attempting to meet children online and continuing to see underage patients after an order to cease.
Grewal sought to block his reinstatement, arguing the board relied on an improperly conducted psychosexual evaluation, but the board on Thursday shot down the attorney general’s motion.
Bajakian remains on parole and must register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law.
“The idea that the state board representing practicing chiropractors could vote unanimously to reinstate the license of a convicted sex offender is a horrific and dangerous move that defies all logic, and is a slap in the face to people everywhere who have faced the trauma of sexual misconduct,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said. “By reinstating the chiropractic license of Bryan Bajakian, the board has placed others, including the most vulnerable, in harm’s way.”
Weinberg and Sweeney will introduce a bill that dissolves the board, removing its current members, almost all of whom are holdovers from past administrations.
The bill would then create a new body, with a larger number of public members. The current board provides for six seats for chiropractors — two of which were empty before the Senate last week confirmed Pasquale Pucciarelli — two public seats and one filled by the governor’s designee.
The state seat is empty, as is one of the public seats. The other is held by former Passaic County Republican Chairman John Traier.
The proposal would also bar anyone convicted of a felony sexual offense of being licensed to work as a chiropractor.
“Attorney General Grewal had it right the first time — there is no way a sexual predator should also be a licensed chiropractor in New Jersey,” Weinberg said.
The saga has drawn increasing amounts of criticism. Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday declined to rule out dissolving the board, promising his administration would “be looking very carefully and very soon at the makeup of that board.”
His comments followed similar threats from the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee’s top two members. Chairman Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) and ranking member Bob Singer (R-Lakewood) promised reforms to the panel — and potentially other professional boards in the state.
“Bryan Bajakian is a predator who should not be placed in a position of trust with patients in healthcare settings that make them vulnerable, especially children,” Vitale and Singer said in a joint statement Thursday. “Denying him a license should be automatic, as it is in other states.”