Brooklyn Park kneads kinks out of massage parlor ordinance

massage stones towelsIn an effort to combat prostitution, Brooklyn Park will begin licensing individual massage therapists and the establishments that employ them.

The city council considered regulating massage therapists at the request of the police department after a string of recent complaints and an August sting operation that resulted in prostitution charges against one of the employees at the Super Spa at 6280 Boone Ave. N.

Police said the owner’s role in the August case wasn’t clear enough to bring charges. Because neither the city nor the state regulates massage parlors, authorities could do nothing to hold the owner accountable for the alleged illegal activity in the establishment.

In 2009, Brooklyn Park city staff began drafting a similar ordinance but put it on hold because the state legislature was considering the issue. But the legislature never passed the proposed bill.

In recent years several cities in the metro area have responded to similar problems by approving ordinances requiring massage parlors to obtain operating licenses. One of the most recent was Shakopee, which adopted such an ordinance in September last year. With the exception of Osseo, all communities sharing a border with Brooklyn Park require city licenses.

The Brooklyn Park City Council considered a draft ordinance Dec. 17 requiring a license for individual therapists and the establishments that employ them. That draft raised concerns for several council members.

To qualify for a license under the original proposal, each therapist would need to undergo a one-time background check at a cost of $200 and pay a $25-per-year fee.

Therapists would have to meet schooling requirements and city staff would conduct annual inspections of each massage business. An establishment’s license could be revoked for noncompliance or illegal activity.

At the city council’s Feb. 19 meeting, Code Enforcement and Public Health Supervisor Jason Newby presented a revised ordinance.

Newby said staff had taken a closer look at the four main issues raised by the council.

The first concern was the impact on legitimate therapists and the cost of the individual licenses. Newby said staff researched what surrounding cities charge and found the proposed fees would be “comparable, if not lower, than what other cities are charging.”

Staff further researched the cost of background checks and the new ordinance would only require a $100 fee for a background check. Newby said that would still cover the city’s costs.

The second question was whether Brooklyn Park should recognize licenses issued by other cities. Staff reviewed the question with the city attorney and asked other cities how they handled it.

“We learned that it’s not common practice to honor another city’s license,” Newby said. “Concerns were raised regarding the inconsistencies in the accredited training and the background check. … Making it transferable also limits the city’s ability to enforce requirements on an individual therapist that’s not licensed by the city of Brooklyn Park.”

The third issue was whether the city should only require establishments to be licensed instead of individual therapists. After meeting with the police department, Newby said staff concluded “the licenses and the background check on each therapist is essential in order to identify those who have been convicted of a relevant crime.” Most of the nearby communities surveyed require individual therapists to be licensed.

The council’s final request was to shorten the original ordinance and make it easier to understand. Newby said staff worked with the city attorney to modify the language and was able to significantly shorten the section about applications.

Council members thanked staff for their work and unanimously approved the first reading of the revised ordinance.

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com.

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