As expected, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has introduced emergency legislation requiring all massage providers not certified by the state to be licensed by the county and prohibiting cross-gender massages at such businesses.
Lawmakers and county police said they hope the new measures will close about 20 massage parlors concentrated in downtown Bethesda and Wheaton that authorities say are fronts for prostitution.
"They are a nuisance to our neighborhoods," Duncan (D) said at a crowded news conference Tuesday in Rockville. "We're making sure that Montgomery County doesn't become a place that is home to such businesses."
Duncan said the legislation will make it easier for police and county health officials to inspect massage providers.
Under the legislation, which now moves to the County Council, masseurs or masseuses not licensed by the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners must be licensed by the county and:
*Submit to fingerprint, photo and background checks.
*Provide a washbasin in each room and meet other health and sanitation standards.
*Maintain a registry of clients.
*Post a sign at the entrance of the business.
*Conform to proper zoning laws.
In addition, businesses that provide masseurs not certified by the state are prohibited from performing cross-gender massages.
Penalties could lead to a $1,000 fine and closure of the business.
"It is critical that we not let these businesses get a foothold in our communities," said Councilman Derick P. Berlage (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, whose district includes downtown Wheaton.
The new legislation comes two weeks after county officials revealed that detectives, in sting operations, paid informers to have sex with prostitutes at massage parlors.
County police said they have stopped using such techniques.
At a breakfast meeting in Rockville April 29, Duncan told County Council members that he intended to introduce the new restrictions, including the banning of cross-gender massages.
Some council members -- including Steven A. Silverman (D-At large) of Silver Spring, Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring and Nancy H. Dacek (R-Dist. 2) of Darnestown -- said they had serious concerns with the stringent measures, saying thousands of legitimate therapists in the county would be put in jeopardy.
County officials, however, said the bill shields legitimate massage therapists because most of those are already certified by the state.