BILLINGS- Lawmakers are less than a week away from the 66th Montana legislative session, and at least one legislator is focused on stopping human trafficking in Montana.
Billings has a big stake in one proposed bill because it’s designed to shut down the city’s illicit massage parlors, ones that sell sex, according to its sponsor.
Republican Rep. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings said there are about 15 illicit massage parlors in Billings and a few others in Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell.
“The route of the bill is to get an injunction as quickly as possible on parlors that don’t have certified masseuses,” he said.
“Montana is an open-for-business state for human trafficking,” said Zolnikov.
He says these establishments breed human trafficking from unwilling participants.
“Where the women are brought over from other countries and married to American men, and those are the ones in the parlors,” he said.
Zolnikov says the bill would go beyond the control of city law by asking the massage parlors in question to be certified and employ licensed masseuses.
“There’s this stain in the whole industry. That’s the illegal ones, and they are usually not certified because the women are being moved around,” he said. “The cities are bound by state laws that limit what they can do.”
If they aren’t, the business would be forced to close, essentially ending any human trafficking from occurring inside the building.
He says it would not impact legitimate spas.
“So you don’t want to go after the women, that is the worst approach. You want it to get their business shut down. And to get that business shut down, you have to file an injunction so you have to find a reason to have the injunction filed,” Zolnikov said.
Zolnikov believes a blind eye is being turned to the issue of human trafficking in Montana, something he hopes the measure would shed light on.
“It’s a form of slavery, so who can’t get behind this type of issue?” he said.
He says something else we will see this session are bills to address missing and murdered native American women.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News