SIOUX CITY | Nearly a half-dozen massage therapists and a pair of human trafficking opponents voiced a combination of support and concern Monday regarding a proposed ordinance that would require massage therapy businesses to obtain a license through the city.
The City Council ultimately passed the first reading of the ordinance 5-0 but declared its intent to work with local therapists as it forms a final draft of the regulations.
Designed to crack down on unauthorized businesses and those covering for illegal activity such as prostitution, human trafficking and drug dealing, the ordinance would require massage therapy businesses to obtain licenses from the city and undergo annual reviews.
Some therapists doubted how much of a difference the local regulations would make, while others said certain aspects of the proposal, such as a prohibition on operating between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., would cut into business.
"I see 14 people a day, and if somebody calls in and they hurt, I'll see them whenever they need," said Lonnie Jensen, co-owner of Mind & Body Connection.
The proposed ordinance change comes after the state legislature removed a portion in the state's code blocking cities from regulating massage businesses. Sioux City had regulated them until about 2003. The new ordinance is similar to an existing one in Johnston, Iowa.
Applications would include identification and information on the businesses' employees, their criminal records, any denials or suspensions of their state massage licenses and other information necessary for background checks.
Licenses will not be granted if the applicant or any owners, managers, employees or agents have a criminal conviction for a sex crime or for keeping a house of prostitution, or if they are a registered sex offender or have been denied a license by any other community.
A violation would be a simple misdemeanor prosecuted through the city.
To provide context, Sioux City Police Sgt. Dane Wagner told the council two months ago, police investigated a local massage parlor, where an undercover officer found there were sex acts taking place inside.
Kathy Spencer Jensen, co-owner of Mind & Body Connection and the Bio Chi Institute of Massage Therapy, agreed human trafficking is a problem but said she believes the issue is bigger than a city issue and should instead be regulated at a higher level.
"This is an international issue," she said. "What we're doing here isn't going to make any difference."
Kevin Trowbridge, owner of Massage and Body, said the exemption of businesses employing a chiropractor could allow some illegal businesses a loophole.
"If they're that organized, they'll all find a chiropractor to work for them," he said. "It might not be a legitimate chiropractor, but they'll find one."
City attorney Nicole DuBois said the city is not allowed to regulate chiropractors.
Mayor Bob Scott said he believes the local regulations and prosecution will make a difference.
"You start doing that over and over again, people don't hang around," he said.
Also speaking during the meeting were two representatives of the Siouxland Coalition Against Human Trafficking, who said they wholeheartedly support the ordinance.
Edits to the ordinance will be on the way before the council passes a second reading.
Scott said he wants to revisit an "unreasonably high" requirement for applications to include proof of insurance in the amount of $2 million per occurrence, $6 million per policy year. DuBois also suggested to include a line requiring applicants to provide copies of their state licenses.
The city will also meet with representatives of the businesses to gather their concerns and feedback.