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Petaluma rules on massage businesses delayed

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:51 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:51 a.m.

Petaluma police will try for a third time to bring the City Council a proposed ordinance that regulates massage providers and gives law enforcement the tools to crack down on prostitutes posing as legitimate businesses.

Monday night, the council sent Chief Pat Williams back again to rework a proposal that would require massage professionals to meet minimum training standards while at the same time help police bust illicit massage parlors.

The council also wanted a "grandfather clause" to protect existing legitimate business operators from potentially burdensome new requirements.

When the council first considered the ordinance in December, several massage practitioners objected to what they said was inaccurate assumptions that lumped them in with sex workers.

The proposed law at the time called them "massage workers," which to them sounded too close to "sex workers." It also would have required massage professionals to undergo a health screening and provide the city with recent proof that they weren't carrying communicable diseases -- something that doctors, dentists and other health-care providers aren't required to do.

During a second effort Monday, the discussion drifted from the anti-prostitution goal to one that would set licensing standards for legitimate massage providers.

Councilwoman Teresa Barrett had some pointed words for police: "This thing's just a mess and it has been from the beginning."

While the real focus was prostitution, an ordinance regulating law-abiding, professional health professionals was going "about it the wrong way," she said.

Police said in the past few years they have busted a handful of massage businesses operating as fronts for prostitution, including arresting two business owners in August.

Several massage therapists and practitioners said Monday they welcome some kind of standards, but there were still objections to wording that could force long-term massage therapists to start from scratch with the state certification process.

The ordinance proposed Monday would have required all massage practitioners in Petaluma to be certified by the California Massage Therapy Council, a nonprofit board that administers a voluntary certification process meant to help consumers identify massage practitioners who meet certain training levels.

Council members said they support the standards, which other cities have required as well, but they also want to protect existing massage providers who have been operating in Petaluma without incident.

No date was set for when the issue would return to the council.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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