Public Safety

City starting to receive massage license applications

Ellen Meyer, a licensed massage therapist at Hands in Harmony, performs massage therapy on Kayla Pirtle of Cedar Rapids last July at the massage studio in Cedar Rapids. A new ordinance that took effect Jan. 1 requires massage businesses in Cedar Rapids to be licensed through the city. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Ellen Meyer, a licensed massage therapist at Hands in Harmony, performs massage therapy on Kayla Pirtle of Cedar Rapids last July at the massage studio in Cedar Rapids. A new ordinance that took effect Jan. 1 requires massage businesses in Cedar Rapids to be licensed through the city. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

BACKGROUND

In an effort to eliminate the operation of illicit massage businesses, the Cedar Rapids City Council passed its long-discussed massage ordinance in November.

The ordinance calls for local businesses that offer massage services to be licensed through the city in addition to the required state license. The ordinance also gives the city the right to placard, or place a notice on, any business engaging in illegal activity or operating without a license.

The ordinance initially was met with concern from local massage therapists and victim advocacy groups that deal with human trafficking.

Among concerns was the first draft’s lack of language addressing human trafficking, which sometimes is associated with illegal massage businesses, as well as its lack of cost analysis when it came to enforcement. Also, several massage therapists were uneasy about having to get a local license, in addition to the state one, and pay more fees.

The new ordinance incorporates human trafficking language, stating, “If the city has probable cause that prostitution … or human trafficking … has occurred at a property providing massage therapy, the police department may placard the property.” It also notes such crimes could be subject to criminal prosecution.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

The ordinance went into effect Jan. 1.

Since then, Amanda Grieder, program manager for SAFE-CR — Secure and Friendly Environments in Cedar Rapids — who was the city’s point person in drafting the ordinance, said the city has received 15 license applications from massage businesses.

Of those, she said eight have been approved and seven have been held up because of minor mistakes on the application. Greider said the city is working with those businesses to correct the mistakes and get their applications approved.

No applications have yet been denied, she said.

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Businesses offering massage services in Cedar Rapids have until Feb. 28 to complete the city licensing process before facing enforcement.

Those applying are required to provide their name, address of the business and “documentation establishing the applicant’s control of the premises on which the business will be located,” the ordinance states.

Additionally, the applicant and other employees of the business are required to undergo a criminal-background check and show proof they are licensed by the state’s Massage Therapy Board.

The city’s $60 business licensing fee includes three background checks for employees, with additional background checks costing $10 each. The license needs to be renewed every two years.

Fees have been waived for licenses obtained from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28.

Cedar Rapids is one of a handful of cities that have passed such ordinances.

Johnston passed an ordinance that requires practicing massage therapists to be licensed, and Coralville passed a similar ordinance in September. Marion and Urbandale passed ordinances allowing the cities to placard properties that engage in illegal activity, and Iowa City recently passed a similar ordinance. The Cedar Rapids ordinance combines aspects from both models.

• Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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