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Bemidji City Council: New massage ordinance presented

Bemidji's massage ordinance has been revised to exclude a requirement that all massage therapists undergo an annual physical exam.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance, but decided to table the hearing until its next meeting, Jan. 19, to allow for further editing.

City Attorney Al Felix said city staff would take that time to incorporate wording that would allow for mobile chair massage.

Mobile chair massage is popular at community events, where massage therapists will set up a mobile massage chair and offer a seated massage.

The current version of the Bemidji massage ordinance licenses onsite massage therapy.

Shylan Rose, a certified massage therapist, wrote a letter to the council in which she asked that the ordinance also allow for mobile chair massage.

"Mobile chair massage is an extremely important element of the massage therapy profession," she wrote.

By having mobile chairs at health shows or other public events, not only is the public able to experience the massage industry firsthand, but it also give potential clients the opportunity to find a massage therapist whose skill set meets their needs.

Research shows that even a brief, 10- to 15-minute massage during a person's work day can reduce aches and pains, enhance energy and productivity, and improve accuracy to focus on his or her tasks, Rose wrote.

Felix said he did not disagree.

Rita Scholl, a certified license therapist with Living Touch Massage, addressed the council during the public hearing and asked that the ordinance include two other requirements.

She would like establishments to be required to carry professional malpractice insurance; and to also include both "massage therapists" and "bodyworker" as terms covered by the ordinance.

In a handout, she said that bodyworker encompasses all forms of soft tissue work, including massage. By including it in the ordinance, it would lessen the confusion as to who has to have a city license and would address those who might set up a bodywork practice as a way to get around the city licensure requirement.

City Clerk Kay Murphy said staff was aware of the additional requests.

The City Council in April 2008 held a work session with massage therapists to address the ordinance.

Due to other city concerns, the amending of the massage therapy ordinance was set aside, Murphy said, until staff decided to at least clean up some of its language and remove, specifically, the portion that addresses the now-required annual physical exam.

"That really was the ire that got the council looking at this," Felix said, referencing the number of massage therapists who said the exam requirement was degrading.

The council agreed to table the public hearing until Jan. 19 to allow Felix and city staff further time to include wording addressing mobile chair massage.