Editorial: It’s time to massage the law

Editorial: It’s time to massage the law

Residents who stayed up long enough to catch the tail end of last week’s city council meeting got a refresher on Alexandria’s less-than-upstanding past.

What sparked the history lesson? The answer is a decades-old law that makes it all but impossible for massage therapists to arrange home visits for clients. According to Mayor Bill Euille, the regulations were crafted after city and local law enforcement officials ended up behind bars for abusing massaging services.

He did not specify the exact nature of the crimes, but it doesn’t take much of an imagination to surmise how and why even public officials ended up in hot water after one too many in-home massages. New regulations were swiftly enacted to prevent the thinly disguised prostitution from continuing. They included requiring mobile massage therapists to pay fees, obtain permits and register with the police department’s vice squad.

And the kicker: Addresses of their potential clients must be turned over for city examination.

Perhaps once necessary, these regulations now fall into the category of those that outlaw urban chicken farming, limit how many pets a family may own and prevent food trucks from operating on city streets. They are blue laws from another era, and they represent insulting government intrusiveness into the lives of residents.

This also is an issue of fairness. If a massage therapist has to register a client list with the city, why shouldn’t the owner of a mobile pet grooming service, or every plumber, electrician or handyman in the city? After all, they all make house calls (nudge, nudge). Who knows what might happen between workers of any kind and Alexandria residents? Clearly, if one type of in-home service is regulated this way, they all should be.

City Councilor Justin Wilson hit the nail on the head when he described the regulations as a measure from a different time. We were pleased to see him ask City Manager Rashad Young and city staff to take another look at the ordinance, with the goal of repealing or amending it. This type of forward thinking is to be applauded; it is a sign of how far we’ve come.
People who commit actual crimes — and on this, the state and federal criminal code are clear — must be punished. But there is no need to unnecessarily criminalize legitimate, legal business behavior.
On that final note, we support Wilson. This ordinance must be reviewed and rectified. Times have changed, and our laws must shift with them.