Council review set on massage parlor legislation

January 24, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The county Police Department is doing such a good job, Howard doesn't need a massage parlor licensing bill to curb prostitution, attorneys representing several massage spas told the County Council last week.

Thursday night, county police raided three massage parlors and arrested five women after an eight-month investigation.

But instead of bolstering the attorneys' arguments, the raids may have had the opposite effect, convincing council members that the anti-prostitution bill is needed and that the county may need a tougher measure than the one proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

His proposal already reflects compromises with massage parlor owners and cannot be weakened further and still be effective, police officials told council members last week.

Councilman Paul R. Farragut, a 4th District Democrat, thinks the Ecker administration may have given away too much.The original draft of the bill was similar to legislation in neighboring jurisdictions and would have made it illegal for employees to massage people of the opposite sex.

Mr. Farragut wants that clause restored, but he is not sure he has the votes on the council to do so.

"I am bothered, frankly, that our bill is weaker than in other counties," he said. "I think it will encourage more illegitimate businesses to move into the county and I think that's a bad thing."

Attorneys representing several of the county's nine massage parlors told the council last week that their clients are Korean women who own or work in legitimate businesses.

If the law were enacted without change, they said, it would put their clients out of business.

Councilman Darrel Drown, a 2nd District Republican, also wants a tough licensing bill. "I'm definitely supporting the bill," he said. "I don't think it will put legitimate people out of business. I haven't heard anyone but the owners against this bill. What I hear is people saying we don't need [prostitution] in our &L community."

Mr. Ecker's bill would require licenses for massage spas and prohibit employees from participating in prostitution, lewd displays or indecent behavior.

It would require that employees receive medical checkups within 30 days of applying for a license, have background checks and be fingerprinted. The bill also would allow county officials to inspect the parlors at any time.

The proposed law would not apply to health professionals, athletic trainers, therapists certified by the National Certification Board for Bodywork and Massage Therapies, therapists who have completed advanced training in approved schools, or cosmetologists and barbers licensed to massage hands, feet, faces, scalps, necks and shoulders.

The council is set to review the proposed legislation during a work session at 8 p.m. today in the county office building.

Another item on tonight's agenda concerns the county's adequate facilities law. The law allows 50,000 new housing units to be built in the county over the next 20 years, setting a target of 2,500 a year.

The law also allows that target to be a rolling average that in some years will be more than 2,500 units and in some years less.

What concerns Mr. Drown, Mr. Farragut and Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, a 1st District Democrat, is that the rolling average is "front loaded" until the year 2004. The number of new housing units allowed grows from 2,740 a year in 1995 to 3,000 a year in 2001. It continues at that pace until 2005, when it begins to drop sharply.

Mr. Drown thinks the projected averages are acceptable through 1999, but unacceptable afterward.

He wants the sharp drop -- 1,877 units per year -- to occur in the year 2000 and the higher average of 3,000 a year postponed until 2006.

Mr. Farragut also says some alteration may be necessary. Economic conditions have changed since the council approved numbers in the general plan in 1992, he said.

The county might not be able to afford a higher level of growth right now, he said.

Ms. Pendergrass tried to lower some of the numbers last year -- particularly those in her district -- but was unsuccessful.

She is hopeful she will find support tonight for her ideas.

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