Spokane City Council okays licensing inspections of massage businesses

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(The Center Square) – Spokane City Council members on Monday unanimously approved a measure regulating local massage and reflexology businesses as a safeguard against potential prostitution, human trafficking and other related crimes.

Council president Lori Kinnear said the ordinance proposal enables the city to affirm the certifications or credentials of such businesses or individual practitioners and deny or revoke licenses for non-compliance or illegal activity.

Kinnear thanked a police detective “for alerting us to this and (asking) for help. Otherwise, we would have no knowledge that we have a problem.”

Officials were informed of activity based in western Washington in which women, typically from China, have been brought to the U.S. “ostensibly to do massage,” said Kinnear, “but there are other things that they do. So, this is curbing that activity.”

Kinnear noted that human trafficking is often accompanied by illegal drug activity and weapons. So the city “might be hitting three (crimes)” with one control measure, she indicated.

A summary of Ordinance C36444 recognizes the value of “legitimate massage and reflexology businesses in Spokane.” But some which present themselves as legitimate operations “employ unlicensed persons and facilitate the commission of various criminal acts, including human trafficking and prostitution.”

“The City Council wants to protect the reputation of legitimate and licensed business and practitioners, as well as public health, safety, and welfare,” the summary states.

The ordinance requires practitioners to be age 18 or older and have valid, current licenses. It also allows law enforcement a “limited right of inspection” to determine whether persons who present themselves as massage therapists or reflexologists have actually met state standards for education, training and certification.

Without such authorization, police or city officials have no way to know “whether these so-called practitioners are not actually individuals being exploited or trafficked under the guise of a massage or reflexology business,” the summary stated.

According to the ordinance, license inspections would be limited to when the business is open and restricted to its “common areas.” Entry or inspection of rooms where services are provided would not be allowed without consent, a warrant, or “other lawful basis.”

A first violation of the ordinance will be considered a misdemeanor offense; subsequent violations would be gross misdemeanors. Convictions could result in denial or revocation of a business license.

Kinnear said Spokane’s ordinance was based on one from the City of Kent. She noted that the adjacent City of Spokane Valley has a similar measure on the books.

The measure, which could potentially apply to two dozen or more businesses in Spokane, was sponsored by Kinnear and council member Karen Stratton with affirmative votes from Jonathan Bingle, Betsy Wilkerson, Michael Cathcart, and Zack Zappone.

If signed by Mayor Nadine Woodward, the ordinance will go into effect 30 days later.

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