An increase in prostitution has spurred Eden Prairie to join a growing list of metro area cities requiring massage therapists to be locally licensed in an effort to ease police investigation of prostitutes fronting as massage therapists.

While some experts are skeptical that the new ordinance, which goes into effect in Eden Prairie on Jan. 17, will deter prostitution, more cities now have the licensing requirement because of the problem. Apple Valley and Minneapolis are among a dozen-plus cities to pass similar ordinances over the years.

The state doesn't license or register massage therapists, so it's up to cities to require licenses. In Eden Prairie, police requested the ordinance in light of numerous complaints this year about "questionable activity" at some businesses and now, they say, the ordinance will help better separate legitimate businesses from illegal ones.

"I think the community at large is happy we're trying to address this activity," Police Lt. Greg Weber said. "We're starting to see an increase in [prostitution]. We've made some arrests. I don't know if [the new ordinance] will stop prostitution, but it's an additional tool."

To Barbara York, the ordinance is an "antiquated idea." Her organization, the Minnesota Touch Movement Network, formerly the Minnesota Therapeutic Massage Network, has long opposed such ordinances, saying they hurt legitimate businesses, potentially increasing costs for consumers. York said such rules aren't the answer to the much more complex problem of sex trafficking, especially as prostitution moves to the Internet and is now a text message away for clients.

"Prostitution is not as much brick and mortar as it is cell phones and what not," she said. "Just because you pass an ordinance doesn't mean you're going to stop prostitution. ... It just encumbers massage therapists."

In Eden Prairie, Weber said most reputable businesses won't be affected by the licensing rules because massage therapists at salons with cosmetology licenses are exempt. But non-salon businesses will have to pay a one-time $500 investigation fee and a $300 annual licensing fee. Massage therapists doing business as an individual will have to pay a $100 one-time investigation fee and a $50 annual licensing fee to cover costs of criminal background checks and other checks.

At Right As Rain Massage in Eden Prairie, Emily Hagen welcomes the move, saying licensing makes her business more reputable.

"I'm sitting here with all this education and credentials, but do clients know that? No, my prices have to stay the same [as other businesses]," said Hagen, adding that she's nationally certified and has completed 900 hours of class work.

In fact, Hagen wants the licensing requirement to go a step further and become a statewide rule to ensure standards and costs are consistent across cities.

"What licensing does is it gives respect to the profession," she said. "[Customers] may be a little more discerning."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib