City to keep closer eye on massage businesses

CONYERS -- The practice of massage therapy will come under closer scrutiny following the City Council's approval of an ordinance that will require massage businesses to be licensed and to meet more stringent requirements.

Local massage therapist Jessica Bledsoe said she welcomes the increased oversight by the city, which will benefit not only consumers but therapists as well.

"This protects us a lot," said Bledsoe, who received her massage therapy license three years ago after 900 hours of schooling. "I think it's fantastic. I think it's a really big step in the right direction."

Bledsoe, who works at Conyers Chiropractic and Massage, said massage businesses that are not legitimate tarnish the image of those that provide real therapeutic treatments.

"(The ordinance) will definitely help," she said. "I had (a customer) just Monday and he thought this was the type of establishment that it is not. We have to deal with those things on a regular basis."

In March, the City Council approved a 90-day moratorium on issuing business licenses for massage establishments after it was learned that a shooting at a spa in Norcross had ties to a massage business that was preparing to open on West Avenue in Conyers.

Under the new ordinance, in addition to a business license, a massage business or massage therapist will be required to apply for a massage establishment license or massage therapist license. All those licensed will be required to be at least 18 years of age, will be fingerprinted and will be subject to a criminal background check.

Applicants for a massage therapist license will have to present a certificate from a licensed physician stating that they are mentally and physically healthy and free of contagious diseases, as well as certificates of graduation from a state-certified and accredited school of massage therapy and a certificate showing that they passed the exam for massage therapists administered by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Body Work.

For businesses that employ more than one massage therapist, this information will be required for all therapists on staff.

Existing massage businesses and massage therapists will have until Dec. 31 to comply with the new ordinance.

With the exception of the fingerprinting requirement, Bledsoe said most of the ordinance regulations are already covered under licensing by the state of Georgia. She said the state license application was 14 pages long and included a background check.

Under the ordinance, massage establishments licensed by the city will be subject to an annual regulatory fee; however, the city has not yet established this fee and may not require a fee to be paid. All licenses will expire on Dec. 31, and applicants will be required to renew their application every year.

All licenses will be issued for a calendar year. After July 1, applicants will be required to pay only one-half of the licensing fee.

City Attorney Carrie Bootcheck told the council last week that ordinances in other municipalities were researched in the process of developing Conyers' ordinance. Bootcheck said the city was careful to ensure that anyone who wanted a legitimate massage would get one from a licensed massage therapist.

Councilman Cleveland Stroud said he understood that massage therapy would not be a permitted home occupation.

Conyers Chief Operating Officer David Spann confirmed Stroud's belief, but said, "That's not to say it won't happen ... this is for businesses we know are established and have the proper zoning location in the city of Conyers."