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New rules for massage parlors

By Ed Brock

Massage parlors in Clayton County will now have to abide by three new rules.

They cannot be open for any reason between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

They must have a state licensed massage therapist present and available for service during operating hours.

The licensee of each business must "actively supervise and monitor" all employees, customers and other people on the premises during business hours to make sure they are abiding by the law.

These are the three commandments in Clayton County Ordinance 2004-72, approved during the county commission's Tuesday meeting. The purpose of the ordinance is to crack down on illegitimate massage parlors where sex-for-money crimes occur, Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said.

"It really hasn't been a big problem," Bray said. "But we've had some requests lately and we needed to tighten it up."

Massage parlors, often called spas, are a common sight throughout the county. Chon Yong of Marietta, the owner of Garden Health Spa on Ga. Highway 85 in Riverdale, took the news of the new regulations in stride.

He has three licensed massage therapists at his spa that has been in business for four years, Yong said, and he says no illegal activity occurs there. But they do usually stay open until 2 a.m.

"I think it will affect us some. If that cuts down the customers I would be unhappy," Yong said. "But a rule is a rule."

Clayton County law enforcement officials welcomed the new ordinance. The county's police department regularly performs surprise inspections of the parlors, police Capt. Tim Robinson said.

"All of our masturbation for hire cases for the past two years are from massage parlors," Robinson said, adding that solicitation for sodomy is another crime commonly committed at the parlors.

Robinson took special note of the requirement for having a licensed therapist present, something that shouldn't be a problem for legitimate massage therapy providers.

"Why would you not have one there?" Robinson said.

The county needed a good, strong ordinance, Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said, and now that one is in place his office may be giving the parlors another glance. At the same time, legitimate spas have nothing to fear from the new law, Tuggle said.

"Those legitimate places we want to keep in the county," Tuggle said. "The illegitimate places we are looking forward to them moving out."

The ordinance could have been stronger if it required each individual masseuse to have a permit, said Eldrin Bell, a former Atlanta police chief and candidate for commission chairman. Then the permit could be linked to the business owner so if one employee is served it applies to the owner as well.

Bray said the third regulation in the new ordinance, the requirement that the licensee assures supervise and monitor everybody in the business, will have the same effect, making the owner responsible for all violations.

Bray said the new ordinance is effective immediately.