BARRE — In something of a pre-emptive strike that Mayor Thomas Lauzon claims was spurred by recent news accounts involving massage parlors in Chittenden County, he wants to license them and anyone who engages in “massage, bodywork, and somatic therapy” in Barre.
Lauzon first floated the idea last week, and this week the mayor presented the City Council with a proposed 10-page ordinance that he said he plans to encourage mayors around the state to consider proposing in their communities.
“I look at this as an ‘ounce of prevention’-type ordinance,” Lauzon said of the document he drafted in the wake of publicity that prompted the recent closure of four Chittenden County massage parlors amid questions about whether they actually served as fronts for illicit sexual activity.
“I want to make a statement that those types of activities are not welcome here,” he said, echoing concerns that have been raised about human trafficking and the potential exploitation of Asian immigrants employed at each of the now-closed Chittenden County establishments.
The proposed ordinance, which was only briefly discussed by the council Tuesday night, has yet to be vetted by City Clerk Carol Dawes, City Attorney Oliver Twombly, and Police Chief Tim Bombardier. That is expected to happen before it becomes the subject of a public hearing that has been set for Aug. 8.
Lauzon, acknowledged the proposed ordinance might seem heavy-handed to some and stressed it isn’t a reflection of how he feels about the vast majority of people who make a living administering various forms of massage.
“It (the ordinance) is certainly not a commentary on the (massage) industry in general,” he said. “It is a legitimate and honorable profession for the most part.”
However, if the ordinance is adopted as proposed those who offer massages for money in Barre — whether it is on a table they tote around with them, or in a local establishment licensed specifically for that purpose — will be required to provide a fair amount of information to the city in addition to yet-to-be-set annual licensing fees for both individual therapists and the places where they work.
For starters Lauzon wants to know their names, their addresses — current and two prior — and their cellular telephone numbers. He wants written proof of their age. He wants to know their height, weight, their sex, the color of their hair and eyes, and he wants “two front-face portrait photographs” that are “… at least two inches by two inches in size.”
According to Lauzon, most of that information is available on a Vermont driver’s license and he doesn’t see any reason why anyone would object to providing it to the city as part of its business licensing process.
Lauzon also wants their fingerprints and he wants them to cover the cost of criminal background checks that would be required before anyone is issued a certificate to provide massage therapy in Barre.
According to the proposed ordinance: “… a massage, bodywork or somatic therapist’s certificate may be denied to anyone who has been convicted of a crime.”
Lauzon said he also wants some evidence that those applying for therapist’s certificates actually know something about the services they plan to provide. The ordinance requires 80 hours of in-class study in the field of massage, bodywork or somatic therapy, or evidence that the applicant has successfully completed the written examination offered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.
There are things Lauzon doesn’t want and they are reflected in the proposed ordinance, as well.
He doesn’t want completely naked patrons and he believes that some areas of the body — the “… buttocks, genital area (and) and female breasts” — should be massage-free zones.
Lauzon said he doesn’t want anyone under 18 getting a massage in Barre without written permission of a parent or guardian. He doesn’t want alcohol or other “dangerous substances” consumed on the premises, and he doesn’t want massage parlors either used as, or connected to sleeping quarters of any kind.
Those caught violating any provision of the proposed ordinance would face the revocation or suspension of their certificate, and could be fined up to $2,000, jailed for up to 90 days, or both.
Lauzon said he believed the state should enact regulations of its own and hoped other communities would follow Barre’s lead, but planned to press ahead regardless.
“It’s not going to happen here,” he vowed.
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