Kristin Bamonte, owner of Path of Wellness in Kings Park, says...

Kristin Bamonte, owner of Path of Wellness in Kings Park, says proposed legislation puts an unfair burden on businesses like hers. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A Smithtown bill intended to weed establishments connected to the sex trade from those that are legitimate is flawed and discriminatory, some massage business owners and the head of an industry group said this week. 

“We are licensed professionals,” said Happie Pomisel of MoonShadow Massage, a Kings Park business. “We’re not criminals. We’re not sex workers …They’re not asking plumbers or contractors to register their employees.”

The bill, introduced this month and scheduled for a March 3 public hearing, would require owners to provide the town with a list of the names and home addresses of their employees and photo identification. Owners would have to provide references, and town Public Safety officers would make periodic inspections. 

Smithtown has about 15 legitimate massage businesses. Town officials and business owners say there are also illegitimate ones, sometimes staffed by women who arrive at work in vans registered to Flushing, Queens.

After a joint investigation with the Department of Homeland Security and Suffolk County law enforcement in 2017 and 2018, Smithtown investigators issued 85 court appearance tickets for fire and safety violations and closed five businesses for illegal activity and safety hazards. 

Councilman Thomas Lohman, who has pushed for the legislation, said in an interview this week that it was a necessary tool for town officials who lack some investigative powers of law enforcement. “We have no authority to go in there and put any of our investigators undercover to see if there’s solicitation or additional acts beyond what’s legally permitted,” he said. 

After meeting with business owners last year, town officials cut licensing fees from $750 to $250; that would be waived for existing businesses that apply for a license within 60 days of the bill passing into law. All businesses would be subject to a $100 annual license renewal fee. 

Nicholas Bodkin, New York chapter president of American Massage Therapy Association, an industry group, wrote in a Feb. 11 letter to Supervisor Edward Wehrheim that the town had no right to regulate massage therapists, who fall under the oversight of a state agency, the Office of Professions. 

A spokeswoman for that agency did not respond to a request for comment. 

Though the bill posted on the town website explicitly refers to town licensing and licensing fees, Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the bill was intended only to “register” the businesses. Town officials have “spoken with and met with all the legitimate spas in the community,” she said. “We gave them the amended legislation to look over, and we haven’t had any negative correspondence from that so far.” 

She added: “I’m not familiar with any state law that would prohibit us from instituting our own ordinance.”

While town officials said some of the push for legislation came from massage business owners concerned about the proliferation of foot massage businesses in the area, Kristin Bamonte, owner of Path of Wellness, a massage and holistic healing business in Kings Park, called the bill “insulting.” She is considering moving her business out of the town if the bill passes, she said.

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