A proposed city ordinance aimed at ridding Davenport of illicit massage parlors could get passed as soon as next week after aldermen voted Wednesday night to fast-track the city council’s approval process.
The proposal, introduced this week, would require local massage therapists to be licensed by the state of Iowa and for reflexologists — people who massage feet, ears, hands — to be licensed by the city. City officials have billed the proposed ordinance as a way to address a growing concern of illicit massage parlors in the area.
"A couple of my colleagues would agree that this might be a concern to the city of Davenport, and they brought this to the attention of staff," said Alderman Kyle Gripp, at-large. "It was very quickly discussed at one of our Tuesday meetings, and we now have the ordinance before us, I think, to take care of that issue."
Alderwoman Kerri Tompkins, 8th Ward, acting as Mayor Pro Tem at Wednesday's committee-of-the-whole meeting, moved to have the ordinance passed on the first vote, or consideration, at the next city council meeting to expedite the process.
That motion was approved unanimously.
The ordinance will give local law enforcement the ability to shut down any businesses that don’t comply with the city’s new regulations. Another provision makes it unlawful for massage therapy to be practiced between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Sarah Ott, an assistant city administrator, told city council members during a briefing Tuesday that the approach they’re using is “two-pronged.” The provision regarding reflexologists being licensed by the city is meant to head off any illicit massage therapy businesses that may reclassify themselves as reflexologists, she said.
The proposed ordinance was modeled in part after a Des Moines policy enacted last year that gives local law enforcement added authority to shut down businesses that do not have a state-issued massage therapy license. The second portion is similar to enforcement actions put in place in other communities around Iowa that have gone the route of licensing businesses.
The move comes as other Quad-Cities local governments have also sought ways to address illegal massage parlors. In Moline, city officials recently moved an ordinance that would require local businesses to get a special city license.
Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri said last week the motivation behind the initiative was to root out establishments that act as “fronts for human trafficking,” saying city officials want to give law enforcement more tools without being overly burdensome to legitimate businesses.
"The victims of human trafficking (who) get run through these massage establishments are our most vulnerable population, and I feel like we have a responsibility to look out for their best interests and use every tool available to support their freedom from that," she said.
Reporters Thomas Geyer and Sarah Hayden contributed to this story.