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Duluth to Consider Limiting Massage Parlors to 10

City Council considering changes that would restrict massage businesses in city to 10, raise their business license fee, and make it easier for police to identify licensed therapists.

In an attempt to stop the proliferation of massage parlors, crack down on unlicensed massage therapists, and control prostitution, the Duluth City Council is considering changing the ordinance that regulates massage businesses.

The city proposes to limit the number of massage businesses to 10 within the city limits, raise their business license fee, and require owners to provide photo IDs, proof of state certification and fingerprints for massage therapists in their employ.

The council agreed at its Monday (May 7) work session to place the proposed changes on the agenda for its regular meeting next Monday (May 14). In the meantime city staff was directed to research whether the increased $1,000 regulatory license fee that would be required by the city reflects the cost of administering and enforcing the massage ordinance. The current fee is $50.

Perimeter Church Pastor Chip Sweney and two Duluth residents appealed for even tougher restrictions.

Presently, according to Duluth Police Det. Rick Thompson, there are about 20 massage therapy businesses in the city including nail salons that offer massages. Existing businesses prior to July 1, 2012, would be grandfathered until changing ownership or going out of business. Thompson told the council that the fee was appropriate.

More stringent background checks would be required of massage business owners who apply for city licenses, their partners and managers. Applicants would have to provide the original or a copy of the state license, two forms of photo ID and a set of fingerprints for each massage therapist in their employ. The Duluth Police Department would do the fingerprinting.

Independent massage therapists would be subject to the same requirements to obtain city business licenses. Spas would not be exempted.

City Attorney Steven Pereira explained that the proposed changes toughen a “moderate” massage ordinance adopted by the city in March 2011 that replaced a previous ordinance. The state regulates therapists, and the city regulates massage businesses, he said. Business owners, not therapists, would be cited for violations. The owners could have their business licenses suspended or revoked.

The city continues to have problems, Pereira said, and police attempting to enforce the ordinance have difficulty verifying the identities of massage therapists and determining if they are state certified (licensed to practice massage therapy). The proposed revisions would allow police officers conducting checks of massage businesses to review IDs and fingerprint the massage therapists. Often, Thompson said, the therapists claim they don’t have any ID.

Pereira had been asked by city staff to draft the changes and present them to the council. Proposed revisions include limiting the number of massage businesses in the city by population. No more than four such businesses would be allowed per 10,000 persons living within the Duluth city limits. Also, a 150-foot buffer from residential areas would be required. Massage business would only be allowed to locate in C-2 (commercial) districts.

Duluth resident Greg Stewart appealed to the council to stop the proliferation of massage parlors along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Pleasant Hill Road and the exploitation of Asian women forced to work as massage therapists. “They’re here illegally, they don’t speak the language, and they’re bring exploited,” Stewart said.”

“If you don’t enact an ordinance that’s tough enough to affect their pimps, it will just be a slap on the wrist, and it won’t help,” he said.

“I agree with what Greg is saying,” said Lynn Traynor, another resident supporting a tougher ordinance. She called Asian massage parlors “fronts for human trafficking and prostitution.”

“People are talking about this all over...they’re very concerned,” Traynor said. “It’s become a “big issue,” she said, “and they’re wondering why the city isn’t doing anything about it.”

Pastor Sweney said: “We as churches are very concerned about the issue of child sex trafficking taking place in Atlanta and North Atlanta.” Some of the girls lured by pimps to work in massage parlors are as young as 13 and 10, he said. “I hope Duluth will do something about it.”

Massage therapist Dusty Graham, who provided input on the ordinance adopted by the city last year, said the higher license fee would penalize legitimate massage therapists. “$1,000 is too much,” Graham said. He suggested the city draft separate ordinances regulating massage therapy businesses and punishing prostitution.

The changes under consideration include a redraft of the appeals procedure for massage therapy business license suspensions, revocations and denials. City council members decided not to create a Massage License Review Board but to keep the option open to do so later. The council would hear the appeals or appoint a hearing officer.

Bill Rose May 08, 2012 at 10:43 PM
The root problem is a prostitution issue not a massage issue. The council, through this ordinance, is addressing the vehicle via which prostitution is operating in our city. I am sure that within a short period of time a new vehicle will be found to cover illegal prostitution and the city will then need to regulate/constrict another legitimate industry. The proof to support this view is based on fact. Last year the massage ordinance was reworked and additional requirements were implemented to address the prostitution issue. Now, here we are a year later implementing additional restrictions on what has historically been a health and wellness industry. Perhaps a better strategy is for the mayor and council to involve the Korean Task Force to see what can be accomplished through a joint effort. I fear we as a city will continue to have prostitution within the city limits until the time comes where we address the underlying reasons for the problem.
DavidE May 09, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Bill, you hit the nail on the head.
Chip Sweney May 09, 2012 at 02:04 PM
“There is no doubt that the underlying problems are significant and must be addressed. The reality, however, is that illegitimate massage parlors are out of control. It is not just Duluth but also other cities near us such as Johns Creek. This is not just prostitution but child sex trafficking. Child sex trafficking is a major issue in metro Atlanta. One of the ways to help bring this to an end is to bring awareness to the community and to send a message to the perpetrators (owners of illegitimate massage parlors, pimps, men who buy girls for sex, etc) that it is wrong, and we as the citizens are saying "No More" in our city. This ordinance is a small piece in addressing illegal activities and bringing awareness to the reality of what is happening. These ordinances and restrictions are a “band-aid” which can help bring greater awareness to the community, which will work toward the end goal of getting to the root of the issue – stopping the actual demand for the business.
Bill Rose May 09, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I agree with most that is being said but the method by which we achieve an acceptable end result is where I disagree. The ordinance as proposed would require criminal background checks, fingerprinting, increased licensing fees, limited hours of operation, setback requirements and I believe verification of state certification of those providing a massage. If a business owner complies with these requirements then they can continue operations whether or not they are a legitimate business or a cover for prostitution or child sex trafficking. In effect, the city through this ordinance could be providing sanctioning of the very thing we are trying to purge our city of. This is more of a social issue and my belief is we should attack this through the use of social pressure. By this I mean protest in front of the business that we do not want in our city. Make the patrons of the business so uncomfortable that they will not do business in an environment where their activities are subject to public view. We have become too passive in this country and we expect the government to intercede on our behalf when all we need to do is be vocal and standup for our beliefs. This requires courage and dedication to our belief structure and we should not ask the government to do what we as citizens will not do for ourselves.
Dusty Graham May 09, 2012 at 05:23 PM
The title of this article is very misleading. Massage parlor is a very derogatory term, right up there with the n-word in the massage therapy field. The City is not considering limiting massage parlors (whorehouses) but is limiting any business that offers massage to 10 in the City. The way the exemptions are worded, this would, by my interpretation, include any business that provides massage, including chiropractic offices, physical therapists, etc. The exemptions exempt "those operating within the scope of their license" not staff or independent contractors working in their offices. If stringent ordinances could control the problem, Doraville would have no parlors. But anyone who does a little research can see that this is simply not the case. The ordinance as written will limit the availability of Duluth citizens to access quality health care. It will limit the ability of part-time therapists to work for themselves. One part-time single-therapist practice would eat a license as would a spa that employs 50. Limiting the number of business licenses is simply not the way to go because of the many business models that employ massage to generate revenue for small businesses and therapists who need flexibility.
Dusty Graham May 09, 2012 at 05:25 PM
An even more scary part of this ordinance is the ability of the Police to demand fingerprints of therapists at anytime simply for identification purposes. No arrest, no need to suspect criminal activity; simply an ID check or the business is shut down. The police state is out of control. If we allow this provision to go through, who is next? Church members? Beer drinkers? In 2010, the GA Atty General's office released an official opinion that the Georgia Crime Information Center could not collect and file fingerprints of therapists who violated the GA Massage Therapy Practice Act. In 2012, Duluth thinks they can require business owners to 'compel' these same therapists to submit to fingerprints on demand from the Duluth Police. This attitude should frighten everyone.
Randy Everette May 09, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Unfortunately, you will never ever be able to stop the actual demand for the business. What needs to happen is these operations need to be monitored very closely, and anybody using underage girls/boys in any way, be it the owner, client, etc needs to be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Their names should also be made very public. Make very hard for these businesses to operate in our fair city. Then they will leave. They will find a path of lessor resistance.
Erion May 21, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Duluth is trying to "stop" the oldest profession in the world !! That is the biggest joke ever. Anyone remembers prohibition? How did that work out for America ? First, why limit it to only 10 ?! If those massage places are bad, as they think they are, then why not shut all of them down ? I wonder what would happen if a McDonalds employee, charges someone on the premises $10 for a sexual favor....Is the city of Duluth going to proceed to shut them down or raise the license fee ?! I also do not understand why Randy and Chip are talking about underage girls or boys . That's a totally different subject guys . Please concentrate : We are talking about massage "parlors" in Duluth...and not about child trafficking.!!!

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