Bill would prohibit some paid massages Prostitution at parlors targeted in proposal

September 30, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County police, renewing their assault on prostitution at massage parlors, are pushing for a new law that would prohibit women from giving "recreational" massages to men for money.

The bill proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker is the first move against Howard County massage parlors since the ill-fated stings of 1995, when charges of unnecessary sexual acts by investigating police overshadowed charges against parlor owners and operators.

The council, which rarely deals with issues of morality, faces an October agenda dominated by them. In addition to massage parlors, the council plans to discuss proposed zoning rules that would force local adult video and book shops to move far from schools or residential areas.

Crackdowns against massage parlors are becoming common throughout the region. Anne Arundel County prohibited "cross-gender" massages in 1991. Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties all have similar laws.

"It seems to have worked here," said Gail Watson, an Anne Arundel lawyer who crafted that county's law.

The laws exempt licensed massage therapists, doctors, sports trainers and others considered qualified to give massages for therapeutic reasons -- a burgeoning and increasingly respected industry.

Those facilities that aren't exempt are considered massage parlors and heavily regulated -- to the point where many go out of business.

The key is the prohibition against cross-gender massages.

The Howard County Council considered -- but narrowly rejected -- such a rule in February 1994, when it passed the county's current massage parlor regulations. Police hope the council will reconsider the ban now.

"If they can't do cross-sex massages, it's probably going to cut out a large percentage of their business," said Capt. Jeff Spaulding, commander of Howard's Northern District.

Police also hope to tighten other rules, particularly a loophole that exempted many massage parlors.

The 1994 rules required sanitary practices and background information on masseuses. while prohibiting illicit acts, such as exposure or touching of erogenous areas. But it exempts any facility that has a single staff member who is qualified to give therapeutic massages -- a provision police say allows many massage parlors to escape regulation.

Those considered qualified include:

Physicians, chiropractors, speech pathologists, physical or occupational therapists, podiatrists, nurses and sports trainers.

Massage therapists with 500 hours of training and certification from an approved school.

Trainees who have 200 hours of training and are enrolled in an approved school.

Barbers or cosmetologists who give massages only to hands, feet, face, scalp, neck or shoulders.

When Howard passed its first massage parlor law in 1994, the county had nine parlors. Now police report four licensed massage parlors and 19 other massage facilities that are exempt from the current law.

Under the latest proposal, some of those 19 exempted facilities would retain their exemptions only if every staff member who gives massages has an exemption under the law.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a West Friendship Republican, says the council's patience has worn thin with massage parlors.

"Business has a right to operate legitimately," he said, "but massage parlors have proven that they can't operate legitimately."

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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