The Howard County Council last night unanimously approved a massage parlor licensing bill aimed at stopping the "prostitution, lewd displays and indecent behavior" police say is occurring in many of the county's nine massage parlors.
The bill requires massage parlor owners and employees to be fingerprinted and undergo state and Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks as part of a biennial licensing procedure.
The bill applies only to massage parlors and their employees. It does not apply to health professionals, athletic trainers, therapists certified by the National Certification Board for Bodywork and Massage Therapies or the American Massage Therapy Association, therapists who have completed advanced training in approved schools, Shiatsu practitioners, and cosmetologists and barbers licensed to massage hands, feet, faces, scalps, necks and shoulders.
Applicants for licenses to work in massage parlors will have to list their police records, provide information about their training and experience, give a description of the facilities and services to be offered and provide a licensing history including any denials or revocations.
The bill becomes law in 60 days. Violators will be subject to criminal as well as civil penalties.
Police Chief James N. Robey had hoped the council would ban cross-gender massage as some neighboring counties have done, but the council rejected that amendment 3-2.
"Obviously, we had hoped to have a bill similar to that in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, but we are pleased the council saw fit to give us another tool in our assault on prostitution," Chief Robey said after the vote.
"Even as we speak here . . . the prostitution still goes on, and we will continue in the next few weeks and the next few months to arrest those individuals involved in it," Chief Robey said.
Police have raided at least five of the county's massage parlors since early 1992. The most recent raid occurred Jan. 20 when vice and narcotics detectives entered three establishments and arrested five out-of-state women, two of whom were charged with prostitution.
Police raided an Ellicott City tanning spa on May 13, 1992, after an informant had told them that female employees there were charging customers between $100 and $140 for sexual intercourse. In that raid, police charged two female employees with prostitution.
A third woman at the spa had been charged in an April arrest warrant with having sex twice with a police informant.
In January 1992, two women were charged with prostitution at a Columbia spa.
The council did approve an amendment that will allow police to forcibly enter a locked room without a search warrant after knocking and announcing their intent.
In another major change to the bill, the council eliminated a provision that massage technicians --the people actually giving the massages -- have a medical examination within the 30 days immediately preceding the date of their application for a license. Under the provision, a doctor would have to certify that the examined person was free of disease communicable by respiration or physical contact.
Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st District, said she saw no good reason for the examination, which she said would not protect people from sexually transmitted diseases.
Under the bill, massage technicians granted licenses will have to prove they are at least 18 years old.