As the number of massage establishments continue to spike in California, new proposed legislation announced Wednesday aims to curb illegitimate parlors by restoring power to local governments.
The Massage Therapy Act of 2014 would remove restrictions on land use so cities and counties can crack down on illegal activity operating out of massage parlors.
“It’s time we take back control of our neighborhoods,” said Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, a sponsor of the bill. “Legitimate massage therapists have a role in our communities. But the current law has allowed criminal elements to hide behind the law and disrupt our communities. This stops now.”
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The proposed law would replace one passed in 2008. That one enacted a voluntary statewide certification process for massage professionals, but city officials complained that it got in the way of their ability to regulate and limit the number of massage parlors in their own towns.
"Some (massage establishments), which are currently fronts for criminal enterprises, engaged in crimes ranging from prostitution to human trafficking," said Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.
The new plan would allow cities to regulate businesses based on zoning ordinances. The law also would call for raising professional standards by certifying businesses and would bar sexually suggestive ads in newspapers.
City leaders feel they're limited in what they can do about it.
"That's been incredibly frustrating," South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian said. "That's what we've been saying, we've had our hands tied to this point."
South Pasadena police sting operations have discovered prostitution, but Khubesrian said state law makes it nearly impossible to shut them down.
"It does cost quite a bit of money and time and then we weren't able to do anything about it," she said.
But that may soon change. The 2008 massage therapy law will sunset at the end of this year, while the new Massage Therapy Act of 2014 will be presented to Senate committees later this year.
"Our communities will once again have a voice in the process," Gomez said.