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House passes restrictions on massage businesses suspected of sex trafficking

 A bill that aims to reform massage businesses that are fronts for sex trafficking passed the House quickly by a 117-0 vote on Wednesday and was sent to the Senate.

Freshman legislator  Rep. Dave Kerner said that owners of these shady businesses "force victims of sex trafficking to live in the confines of that establishment. Oftentimes, they aren't allowed to leave and they're forced to live there."

The women working at these places are often in the country unlawfully and don't speak English. "They won't reach out to law enforcement," said Kerner, D-Lake Worth. "But I think we can agree they should all be protected by the law."

HB 7005 would make it a first degree misdemeanor for a person to operate a massage establishment between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. and to use the massage business as a domicile. The bill also calls for the women working in these businesses to be treated as a victim and not a criminal.

There are exceptions to the hour restrictions in some locations including a health care facility, health care clinic, hotel, motel, bed and breakfast inn, timeshare property, public airport or a parimutuel facility if the massage is performed by a massage therapist acting under the prescription of a physician or other healthcare personnel.

These sex trafficking operation can cast a shadow on true massage therapists, so the bill also helps elevate the profession of massage therapy, Kerner said.

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