The city of Lawrence is right to pursue regulatory licensing of massage venues in the city.
There are more than 40 massage businesses in Lawrence, none of which is subject to oversight by the state, county or city. Regulations could help prevent or identify criminal enterprises that try to use the massage industry to mask illegal activities such as human trafficking and prostitution.
Police cite the 2015 case involving Lawrence’s Spring Massage, which through online posts was drawing men from outside Lawrence, as an example prompting the need for regulation. Following an investigation, two Chinese nationals, Chen Li and Guihong Xiao, were later convicted on charges related to allegations of human trafficking at the business.
Human trafficking is a form of slavery that is believed to be the third-largest criminal activity in the world, according to the FBI. It includes forced labor, domestic servitude and commercial sex trafficking.
Kansas is one of only a few states that do not regulate the massage industry, which means oversight falls to cities and counties. At urging from the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, the city has spent the past year drafting an ordinance to regulate the massage industry.
The key for the city is developing an ordinance that isn’t unfairly punitive to legitimate health care businesses that offer therapeutic massage services. A group of massage and bodywork businesses has criticized a preliminary draft of licensing regulations, arguing the proposal does not follow industry standards. Specifically, they are concerned that some of the requirements could violate client confidentiality and the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The ordinance includes the possibility for immediate-entry inspections and a requirement for massage businesses to keep a daily registry with client names and addresses, the service requested and the service provided.
City Commissioner Matthew Herbert said some kind of ordinance is required but that the scope of the ordinance needs more review.
“All parties agree that a problem exists,” Herbert said. “All parties agree that we want to enable the Lawrence police department to be able to do everything they can to stop this. However, we don’t agree that some of the language inserted into the ordinance needs to be there.”
Herbert is taking the right approach. Certainly the City Commission can work with the massage industry to address privacy concerns while implementing regulations that would ensure that criminal entities do not proliferate here. Such an ordinance is in the best interests of all involved, especially legitimate therapeutic massage businesses.