The People's Health & Wellness Clinic in Barre provides a variety of services for their clients, including a number of different types of body treatments, including massage.
"We have been doing it for 19 years with no issues, so as a clinic we were very concerned," said the clinic's Peter Youngbaer.
Youngbaer is referring to an ordinance proposed by Barre City Mayor Thom Lauzon, requiring anyone who engages in massage and body work to get licensed by the city, or face fines -- even jail time.
Mayor Lauzon said he was concerned about his community following the investigation of alleged prostitution rings -- acting as health spas -- in Chittenden County and Bennington. This coincided with the opening of the Chinese Massage on Barre's South Main Street in July -- which went through the city's permitting process.
Youngbaer is a former legislator and worked on getting different professions licensed in the state. He says the Mayor over-stepped his bounds. Licensing he says is a state issue. "I was concerned about fees for us, fees being a barrier for volunteers. I thought what they proposed was overreaching in terms of what was required and I didn't think it was their purview. That's why we objected," Youngbaer said.
But there was another reason Youngbaer -- who admits he did not read the proposed ordinance -- objected to the Mayor's move. "I do think that the entire profession of body workers here in Central Vermont was insulted and I thought that there was a little bit of ethnic profiling in the way the story played out here and I think both of those things were wrong," he said.
"That's ridiculous," responded Mayor Lauzon. "So when we license liquor establishments am I anti Irish? It's just ridiculous to stay it is racial profiling."
Secretary of State Jim Condos recently met with federal, state and local law enforcement officials concerning the alleged illegal activities at "health spas" and he said the conclusion was that there are laws in Vermont covering prostitution and human trafficking, which he says is a separate issue from whether massage therapists should be licensed.
WCAX attempted to talk to the owners of Chinese Massage in Barre, but Xiu Zen Bai spoke very little English and the number she gave to talk to her husband was out of service.
Mayor Lauzon said he has not talked to the business owners either. "I have absolutely no information to know whether it is or isn't. I think it is, for the most part, a legit business, but again if it were licensed you wouldn't have to ask that question would you?" he said.
The legislature did take up the issue of licensing massage therapists in 2010 at the request of a national massage therapist group. It issued a report recommending that licensing was not necessary. But Secretary of State Condos says he is willing to take another look at the issue if there is interest in the legislature.
Mayor Lauzon said he still supports state licensing for massage therapists.
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