As Human Trafficking Awareness Month is coming to a close, Florida lawmakers are continuing effors to curb human trafficking by putting more penalties in place to shut down illegal massage parlors.
Last year, the Legislature passed a bill designed to enhance Florida’s human trafficking laws including making it a second-degree misdemeanor for a person to operate a massage parlor if he or she does not have a valid government ID.
Lawmakers, though, received reports that some illegal massage establishments are getting around this new law.
Now, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is writing a bill to crack down on those massage establishments.
“This bill is not a partisan issue,” said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth. “We have members in our community that are being subjected to a horrendous way of life — servitude and sexual trafficking. And this bill is designed to prevent that.”
The bill prohibits a person or employees operating a massage parlor from living at a massage parlor. It also makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to operate a parlor between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., which is the most common time frame that sexual trafficking occurs.
The bill allows for some exceptions, said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the committee chair, though some lawmakers worry about the bill’s effects on legitimate massage parlors.
The committee intends for businesses legitimately offering services late at night, like hospice facilities, hospitals or other establistments that have employees who get off late and need therapeutic massages, to continue as they are, Gaetz said.
Representatives from the massage industry argue that the time frame needs to be wider.
“We’re looking at maybe from midnight to 5 a.m.,” said Alex Spassoff, legislative chair of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association. Massage therapists get calls from “airline pilots, theater performers, entertainers who travel, who come in late, international travelers who come in from overseas at a late hour.”
“They’re on a different time clock than we are,” Spassoff said.
Spassoff added that the association will be working with law enforcement officials to identify those business owners who are legitimate and illegitimate.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article stated Alex Spassoff’s title as legislative director of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association. He is in fact the legislative chair of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association.
Chris Kirschner wrote this story online.