TALLAHASSEE — Florida's massage parlors would close at midnight and face more scrutiny under a bill that breezed through a state House panel on Thursday.
The bill's sponsor said his proposal is a response to requests from law enforcement to clamp down on an unsavory side of an industry dotting some urban centers in the Sunshine State.
The measure targets massage parlors that "are really just a coverup for human trafficking, where young women are brought over to this country unlawfully," said state Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth.
The measure (HB 7005) easily cleared the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
It would require the parlors to be closed from midnight to 5 a.m., though local governments would have the option to allow parlors to operate for longer hours to coincide with big events in the area.
"If you're getting a massage at 3 in the morning, that's probably not a legitimate massage establishment," Kerner said after the committee hearing.
Law enforcement report that some female employees are confined to live in squalid conditions at the parlors, he said. Parlor owners would face criminal charges if their employees are forced to live in the parlors.
Violations of the bill's provisions would strengthen the hand of law enforcement in seeking to close the establishments, he said.
The bill is being tracked closely by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
"Attorney General Bondi is dedicated to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human trafficking, and we look forward to following this bill as it moves through the legislative process," Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale said in a statement.
The bill also would ban parlors from advertising sexual acts and would require parlor owners to have government IDs.
Kerner said the parlors operate "on the periphery of society" but have proliferated in areas like his district in South Florida.
"When you drive through the district, you'll see neon signs, you'll see tinted out windows, you'll see massage parlors operating at all hours of the night," he said.