The owner of Soothing Touch Massage parlor in Pikesville told Baltimore County Council members last week that the strict licensing law they are scheduled to vote on tomorrow night might put him and other "clean" operators out of business.
But, Louis Uniglicht, the Soothing Touch owner, and several other massage parlor operators have raised enough questions about the law to prompt a long list of weakening amendments. And if the issues troubling several council members can't be worked out by tomorrow, the vote on the bill could be postponed.
"It would put taxpayers out of work, and on the welfare rolls," Mr. Uniglicht said, telling the council Tuesday that his business is run without illicit sexual activity, despite use of a glamorous woman in his newspaper advertisements.
The law calls for massage therapists to have 500 hours of training and certification, or to have 200 hours and be enrolled in a massage school. The bill has been endorsed by the American Massage Therapy Association, whose members want the law to provide professional standards and weed out the prostitution fronts. The bill would allow unannounced inspections of parlors by police.
After objections were raised earlier about some points, the Hayden administration drafted amendments to try to address them. For instance, a ban on cross-sex massages, a major
feature of the bill, was removed. Another amendment provides for provisional licenses that would allow unlicensed massage workers two years to obtain certification.
Mr. Uniglicht, David Amoss, who runs Absolute Health Spa in Woodlawn, and Michael May, a lawyer representing three other massage parlors, said they had not seen the new amendments before last Tuesday's council session.
Mr. Amoss, in business for 10 months, said he runs a "gray area establishment" but works hard to keep the operation legitimate. His ads that appear in The Sun sports section trumpet an "all female staff" but he said, "We try to run a very clean establishment."
Councilman Douglas B. Riley of Towson said he has received no complaints about the parlors and said he objects to police being able to barge in on massages unannounced. "I just think it's overkill," Mr. Riley said.
Other members, including Chairman William A. Howard 4th, worried about hurting legitimate businesses but appeared to accept the argument that regulation is needed.
County vice detectives said many of the more than 30 massage parlors in the county are fronts for illegal prostitution. Surrounding jurisdictions regulate the industry while the county doesn't, they said.
"This is the time," to regulate, said Ted Zaleski, county permits and licenses chief, reminding council members about embarrassing situations that occurred when the county tried to control unregulated businesses after a public furor erupted.
Bodytalk, the defunct Rockdale nude dance club where patrons brought their own liquor, thus avoiding Liquor Board scrutiny, was the prime example. It took months to get a regulatory law passed, while residents picketed and complained.
Vice Detective Douglas Dunlop said many parlors advertise in newspapers, but provide only a phone number. Customers must call back an hour before their appointments to get an address, he said.
The state legislature has declined to amend prostitution laws or to regulate massage parlors statewide, leaving a regulatory hole TTC in the county. Detectives must get a customer to complain and testify or send police officers in undercover.