The Montgomery County Council this week adopted still new licensing and registration requirements for massage parlors, designed to check any atatempts by sex-pedding massage parlor operators to move into the affluent Maryland suburbs.
"It's mainly preventive," said Fran Abrams, director of the office of environmental protection in Montgomery County. Abram's office would enforce some of the law's provisions.
Other jurisdictions, including D.C. and Falls Church, have moved against massage parlors whose pitch and activities are more directed toward sex hand toward health, making it increasing hard for the establishments to operate in the metropolitan area. Only a handful have opened in Montgomery County. Two of them, located in Silver Spring and Bethesda, have already been closed under existing regulations.
The new law, which takes effect as soon as county executive James P. Gleason holds hearings on regulations and fees, sets penalties of up to $1,000 and six months in jail for each day a violation of its provisions continues.
The law requires annual registration of massage parlor establishment and massage technicians and allows county officials to enter massage establishments without the consent of the owners or occupants at any time for the purpose of enforcing the law.
It sets as grounds for denying or revoking a license falsifying information on the application, refusing entry to anyone authorized to enforce the law or previous criminal convictions or convictions related to giving massages, operating a massage parlor or any "illicit sexual offenses."
The new act makes it illegal to give a massage between midnight and 6 a.m., to administer a massage nude or "attired in either scanty or transparant clothing," and for massage prrlors to advertise in such a way as to "reasonably suggest to any prospective patron that . . . sexual services are offered.
Council member Elizabeth Scull said she introudced the legislation at the urging of residents and business operators in areas where massage parlors had appeared. There are 12 "legitmate massage establishments in the county," she said. "About three others have infiltrated in the last few years. They called themselves massage parlors but they proved to be houses of prostitution," she said.
The new law continues a former law's prohibition against massages on persons of the opposite sex which was used to close down two illicit massage operations. The law excepts nursing homes, medical clinics, offices of physical therapists, and the like from its provisions. Persons who render educational functions may also exempted by the county executive.
The county deleted a possible exemption for massages for "religious purposes."
"I was worried that we were inviting a new sect," said council member Norman Christeller.
The only objections raised to the legislation was from G. Wally Warfield, who argues that health spas should be exempt.Warfield, who is director of human resources for the Holiday Universal Health Spas, said that regulations under tha law might be unnecessarily onerous for a legitimate business such as the spas. "The ordinance actually is designed for another industry." he said.
Abrams said that an illegal massage parlor recently closed in Bethesda was operating as a health spa, with exercise equipment and a pool. It was hard to tell from a legitimate health spa, she said.
The kind of activity we're trying to deal with here is well known for their ingenuity in finding loopholes," said Christeller.
In other action, the council deferred adoption of a regional growth policy statement by the council of Governments to allow time for a forum ot discuss the statment. Council member Jane Ann Moore and others said that county residents have voiced concerns that the policy statment might under mine plannings actions already taken by the county.
In a forum before the county council sessions this week, neighborhood representatives raised concerns that the COG statment might be used later by the county to justify more development in down county areas such as Silver Spring and Friendship Heights or near Metro stops, Moore said.
A majority of council members indicated general agreement with the COG plan but scheduled a forum Sept. 14 to assuage fears about what it does. Council president John Menhke said he would draft a letter to COG saying that the statment appears to conform to Montgomery County plans and practices but reserving approval until after the forum is held and questions answered.
The draft COG statement proposes specific guidelines for more efficient development and use of public services and suggest that growth the redirected toward the urban center and that some Metro station sites be used for more intensive development.
The council also endorsed a plan for state financing for a proposed high rise subsidized housing development for the elderly near Gaithersbury. The endorsement of the council and the county executive allow the developer to seek state money to build the proposed Londonderry Towers development, but does not insure its construction.