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Henderson postpones vote on toughening law on massage parlors

Number of licenses would increase because more would need them

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009 | 9:05 p.m.

The Henderson City Council on Tuesday postponed action on a proposed ordinance clamping down on massage parlors. Without comment, the vote was moved to early next year, probably in January or February.

The ordinance is an effort to combat illegal activities in massage parlors and “reflexology” establishments, which are supposed to offer a type of “pressure point” massage to the hands and feet.

Both types of establishments throughout the valley have often served as fronts for prostitution. Henderson would like to at least try to put a stop to that.

The ordinance — aiming to be “responsive to community concerns” — would restrict the hours the parlors may operate to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. It also would forbid the use of tinted glass on the establishments’ exterior windows, and mandate that the front and back doors remain unlocked during business hours. The ordinance would also prohibit “false or deceptive advertising” about the businesses.

The changes would mean massage businesses in Henderson would be more tightly regulated than those in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County.

“As a youth advocate, this is something I don’t want in Henderson or anywhere else,” said Henderson Councilwoman Kathleen Boutin, who co-founded the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. “I’m in complete support of these changes. They’re a step in the right direction.”

Boutin noted that massage parlors in the region have sometimes been used as transit points for human traffickers, who force underage girls from Asia into working at the establishments to pay off large debts for bringing them into the country illegally.

According to Henderson Planning Manager Michael Tassi, the issue was raised by city staff members who discovered that several license applicants had fraudulently applied for licenses to make reflexology their “primary” business and massage their “ancillary” business — when in actuality the businesses would mostly or solely function as massage parlors.

Concerns also were lodged by community policing groups, Henderson officials said, especially regarding the tinted glass that makes it possible for those inside the businesses to see if police are outside, but impossible for police to see in.

There are currently 18 licensed massage establishments in Henderson, said Margaret Glad, the city’s supervising business license technician. Reflexology isn’t a separate business license category, but that would change under the ordinance, as would the fee structures for both types of businesses.

Glad estimated that if the ordinance passes, Henderson will license about 50 massage establishments. The number would rise because licenses would be necessary for massage therapists who work for other types of businesses, such as salons.

The measure is explicit about the city’s distaste for anything that hints at even the possibility of prostitution inside the parlors.

Under the measure, employees must wear nontransparent outer garments that “fully cover from a point, not to exceed four inches above the center of the kneecap to the base of the neck, excluding the arms.” If that’s not clear enough, another portion of the ordinance mandates that massage parlor owners and employees wear clothes “of a fully opaque material and provide complete coverage of the genitals, genital area, buttocks and breasts.”

The measure also seeks to ensure that privacy in such establishments is maintained — to a degree. There cannot be any tinted or two-way mirrors inside the massage rooms, according to the ordinance, nor any audio or video recording devices.

Hallways and massage rooms must remain unlocked and cannot even be capable of being locked.

The second ordinance the council will weigh tonight would amend a law regarding where sexually oriented businesses such as nightclubs or bookstores may locate. The most significant revision appears to be a detailed description of what constitutes an escort service.

In the end, Boutin said of the massage proposal, common sense should prevail. For example, if people are using massage and reflexology establishments as claimed, then they don’t need to regularly use them after hours.

“I can’t imagine why someone would need a foot massage at 2 a.m.,” she said.

Sun reporter Erin Dostal contributed to this report.

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