The state House passed legislation seeking to crack down on illicit massage parlors, sending it to the Senate for consideration.
House Bill 1300 would give counties the power to require special business licenses for massage parlors, something cities can already do. Bill supporters said when cities implement policies to regulate such businesses, they move to unincorporated county areas to continue their illegal practices.
“This is an effort to provide our counties with some local enforcement authority to act in concert with our cities to address the increasing criminal activity of human trafficking,” said bill sponsor Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs.
Illicit massage parlors offer sexual services under the guise as legitimate massage businesses. They are often staffed by sex trafficking victims . The mostly foreign-born women are forced to work illegal hours and often live inside the businesses, law enforcement officials said.
The House passed the bill, 62-3, on Tuesday. The three no votes came from Republicans.
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“My concern is I don’t think this bill goes far enough,” said Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, who eventually voted for the bill. "As a father of many daughters, I really have issue with the human trafficking epidemic that we have now in this country. ... Colorado needs to do more.”
Several Colorado cities, such as Denver and Aurora, have already enacted special business license requirements for massage parlors to prevent felons from operating the businesses and to create transparency around who owns the businesses.
While there aren’t any official state estimates, at least 34 illicit massage parlors were reported to be operating in the Colorado Springs area in 2021. Nationwide, an estimated 9,000 illicit massage businesses generate $2.5 billion annually, according to a Polaris report.
“It’s a good bill. It doesn’t perhaps address the whole thing, but it does take a good bite out of this problem,” said Rep. Andy Pico, R-Colorado Springs.
Pico said when the Springs passed regulations for massage parlors, the illicit businesses only had to move a few hundred feet away to avoid them.
Under the bill, counties could require massage parlors to apply for specific business licenses, with exemptions for independent massage practitioners. The applications would require owners to pass a criminal background check and provide contact information. Applications could be denied for a number of reasons, including if the owner has been convicted of a sex crime.
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