Balto. Co. set to ban cross-sex massages

September 11, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Worried about massage parlors that are fronts for illegal prostitution, Baltimore County is preparing to enact a strict licensing law that would ban massaging people of the opposite sex.

The law, introduced as a bill at the council's meeting Thursday, is patterned after a statute in Anne Arundel County.

Howard County enacted a weaker version in February, and Baltimore City, Carroll, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have massage parlor licensing laws. Baltimore County's proposed law is scheduled for discussion at a council work session Sept. 27, and will be voted on Oct. 3.

"It's time for us to do something. We've had complaints," said Baltimore County vice detective Douglas Dunlap, noting that there are a handful of such parlors in Baltimore County.

Ads for the parlors often appear on newspaper sports pages.

Mr. Dunlap said county police have pushed for a law to make sure that Baltimore County doesn't become a haven for the massage parlor operators seeking refuge from regulation in surrounding jurisdictions.

Howard County Police Cpl. David Francis said that decisions will soon be made there about which, if any, of Howard County's parlors will be granted licenses under their new law.

The proposed Baltimore County law specifically exempts traditional, licensed health professionals such as doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, nurses and sports trainers, as well as "massage therapists."

To qualify for the exemption, "massage therapists" would be required to have 500 hours of training in a school approved by the county director of permits and licenses, or have 200 hours of training and be enrolled in such a school.

The bill has been endorsed by The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), in Woodlawn, whose president, Jeffery Young, called it a "proactive measure."

He said that people seeking legitimate massages complain and think poorly of the business in general when they encounter places where sex is sold.

"This gives police the tools to close down these places," he said.

Several parlor operators contacted by The Sun were unaware of the proposed law. A woman who identified herself as Leon Lee at Connie's Spa in the 6600 block of Baltimore National Pike said she knew nothing about the proposed law but didn't like the sound of it.

"I don't see why they are starting now, and not before," she said.

The licensing fees also sounded expensive, she said. The bill would require a fee of $1,000 a year for massage parlors with up to three operators and $1,500 a year for those with more. There would also be a $50 fee for each worker and $250 for the manager.

One Woodlawn operator called the bill a scam backed by massage school operators to get more students and drive competitors out of business.

David Amoss, whose 8-month-old Absolute Health Spa in the 2000 block of Lord Baltimore Drive advertises an "All Female Staff," said certification won't stop sex peddling by people intent on doing that.

"We're trying hard to stay on the right side of the law," he said.

He said that the training requirements are ridiculous and require too much time and tuition money to be practical. "It would take three years and thousands of dollars," he said.

Kathleen Murphy, first vice president of AMTA, denied the claims, as did Jerry Toporovsky, owner of the Baltimore School of Massage and another school in Charlottesville, Va.

Ms. Murphy said there is no direct connection between the professional group and the school, and said there is already a national certification exam for massage therapists.

The legitimate massage industry is trying to establish professional standards, she said, adding that the group is hoping for statewide regulatory legislation next year.

Mr. Toporovsky said a student can complete school in as little as eight months, with tuition of $4,400.

"This is not an attempt to make people go to school," he said. "It's an attempt to have standards."

The legislation requires details about employees and license holders, including background and character checks.

Existing massage parlors would have to apply for the new licenses if the law is enacted, and massage businesses could not change location without the county's permission.

The bill contains a long list of prohibited acts, including "massage to a person of the opposite sex," and massage of any erogenous area of the body.

Violation of the law would be a criminal misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

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