City of Tampa Approves Updated Bathhouse Ordinance

In January 2018, the Tampa City Council approved new legislation regarding bathhouses and spas, aiming to crack down on illegal sex trafficking. The council voted unanimously to pass the legislation-- a revamp of an ordinance from the 1980s.

The ordinance has already stirred up controversy on both sides. Proponents have hailed its potential role in fighting human trafficking, while critics say it will lead to over-policing and oppression. City officials have responded to the latter criticism, saying that whenever possible, women will be protected. Assistant City Attorney Mike Schmid stated that, "This ordinance has been crafted as narrowly as possible so not to overregulate."

New Bathhouse Regulation and Penalties

The ordinance will make several changes to the old legislation, passed during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. These changes range from more stringent permit requirements as well as a waiting period for said permit, to limits on the hours of operation for bathhouses and spas. These establishments will also have to keep daily logs of all clients and require all clients to enter through the front door. All bathhouses and spas must have a manager or operator in place to ensure the establishment is operating lawfully. These managers, as well as all employers, will be required to take a course in human trafficking. Establishments will also be regularly inspected to ensure compliance.

In order to apply for a bathhouse permit, one will have to provide a valid photo ID and list any criminal history. The Tampa Police Department will conduct inspections of the establishments prior to issuing permits, working in conjunction with the Tampa Planning and Development Department. City Attorney Mike Schmid stated that the PDD will notify establishments about the ordinance, and they will have 30 days to comply with new regulations. If bathhouses fail to comply with these regulations, there are penalties in place. Failing to obtain a permit will incur a fine of up to $500 and could result in jail time.

Hillsborough County Commissioners have expressed their support of a similar countywide ordinance. They worry that the crackdown in Tampa will encourage illegal establishments to simply move outside of city limits and operate elsewhere in the county. According to the Polaris project, a nonprofit organization working to combat human trafficking, the city of Tampa has one of the highest numbers of illegal bathhouses and spas in the state. The same organization named Tampa as a hub for illegal activity and human trafficking. The Florida Dream Center, a nonprofit located in St. Petersburg aimed at aiding victims of human trafficking, has stated that the focus should be on those soliciting prostitution. The president of this organization has stated that this ordinance will cause establishments to relocate, rather than legally comply.

Earlier in 2017, two massage parlors located on Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa only a few minutes apart, closed suddenly. Both had been recently visited by law enforcement.

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No easy answers as Tampa tackles illicit massage parlors

Tampa City Council passes revamped version of bathhouse ordinance

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