State lawmakers have come up with a way to help California cities deal with a proliferation of massage parlors with suspected links to prostitution and human trafficking.
New legislation is aimed at fixing an inadvertent loophole created by a 2008 law that created a state-sponsored council to oversee the regulation of legitimate massage therapy businesses, such as spas and clinics.
The loophole led to an explosion of massage parlors in many cities. For example, their number grew by nearly 500% to 75 in the city of Huntington Beach between 2009 and 2013.
The existing statute stripped cities and counties of their ability to use zoning authority to control the location of massage businesses, whose masseuses had been certified by the California Massage Therapy Council. The bill, AB 1147, also allows local governments to adopt ordinances relating to health and safety, hours of operation and training of employees.
The bill currently is being amended in the state Senate.
"Bad actors, masquerading as legitimate massage professionals, have exploited loopholes in current law which impairs the ability of local government and law enforcement to regulate them," said Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord). "Their actions damage the integrity of true massage therapy professionals."
Bonilla is co-authoring the bill along with Assemblymen Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) and Jimmy Gomez (D-Echo Park).
The bill, which has no known opposition, "provides a balanced solution to the regulation of massage therapy businesses," said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, the immediate past president of the League of California Cities.
The proposed massage bill, if it becomes law, should protect legitimate massage therapy businesses, said Ahmos Netanel, chief executive of the state massage council.
"Eighty percent of California's 4.2 million massage consumers are women from diverse backgrounds..." he said. "They deserve the right to have access to the remedial benefits of massage therapy in a respectable and safe environment."