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Billings City Council passes massage ordinance designed to fight human trafficking

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Posted at 10:22 PM, Apr 26, 2021

BILLINGS — An ordinance to regulate massage businesses in Billings with the goal to cut down on human trafficking passed its final reading in a 8-3 vote at a City Council meeting Monday night.

Council members Mike Yakawich, Kendra Shaw, Roy Neese, Denise Joy, Penny Ronning, Mike Boyett, Shaun Brown and Mayor Bill Cole voted in favor, Council members Frank Ewalt, Danny Choriki and Pam Purinton voted in opposition.

The ordinance will require all massage business owners to obtain a specific business license from the city at a cost of $55 per year. Massage business owners will also need to submit a background check and fingerprints to the city to obtain the business license.

Click here to read the complete ordinance.

The ordinance gives inspectors in city code enforcement the authority to go into massage businesses during business hours to ensure compliance.

The ordinance prohibits practices often used by illicit massage businesses that operate as hubs for sex work and human trafficking.

Some prohibited conduct called out for massage businesses in the ordinance include: allowing employees to provide massage without being fully clothed, requiring nudity as part of massage without client's consent, distributing advertising that would suggest the business offers sexual service, and operating the massage business within the hours of 10 p.m. - 6 a.m., among others.

Council member Danny Choriki said one of his reasons for voting in opposition, was the ordinance uses a business licence and the city code enforcement department to do the job of law enforcement.

"Right now, all that's going to happen is they're going to lose their business license, they're going to move to the county and they're going to move out of town. They're going to take their money with them and there's not going to be any retribution whatsoever. To me, if we're going to take on trafficking, we need to do it seriously. We need to do it as a criminal act and not as a violation of a business license," Choriki said.

RELATED: Massage therapists concerned about proposed Billings ordinance targeting sex trafficking