ATLANTA — State Sen. Cecil Staton challenged local officials Thursday to get tougher on shady spas and massage parlors in the Macon area, and he announced his own push to strengthen state laws that lay out penalties for masturbation sex shops masquerading as massage centers.
Staton, R-Macon, said there’s only so much that can be done at the state level. But his legislation — which is also supported by several other local legislators — toughens penalties, making a third violation of state regulations on massage therapy a felony.
The harsher penalties, he said, may encourage law enforcement to focus on the parlors more often.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said he’s looking at new rules, including some that would target landlords of buildings that house spas. Reichert said they could be subject to fines after spas in their buildings draw police action, as many did last year during a series of Macon police raids.
Staton’s tougher penalties could be levied against the masseuse, the spa manager or owner, but not against the landlord, the senator said. His legislation, Senate Bill 364, probably will start winding its way through the legislative process in earnest next week. It also would make it easier to pull a massage therapist’s licenses if the license holder is caught performing sex acts instead of legitimate massage.
Staton said local officials bear much of the responsibility when it comes to cracking down on these parlors. He called them a “scourge on our community” that seem to be more prevalent in Macon than in other parts of the state.
“It is, in my opinion, too easy for these folks to get business licenses,” Staton said. “I want to challenge our colleagues in local government ... to look at what we can do locally to aid law enforcement.”
Reichert said the city also may look at new rules along those lines. An attempt to reach Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart on Thursday to discuss the issue in unincorporated Bibb County was not successful.
Staton pointed to Gwinnett County in metro Atlanta as an example of stronger local regulation. In Gwinnett, a potential parlor owner has to jump through several hoops before getting a business license, including getting three local voters “of good moral character” to sign a letter attesting to the owner’s own “good moral character,” according to a copy of regulations that Staton provided Thursday.
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.