Council passes first reading of ordinance amendments for mobile food vendors, massage therapists and taxi drivers

Published 6:47 am Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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The Albert Lea City Council is considering changes to the city’s licensing requirements for mobile food vendors, massage therapists and taxi drivers.

The council on Monday approved the first reading of amendments to three city ordinances that would strengthen protections for consumers when utilizing the three services.

City Manager Ian Rigg said mobile food vendors will still be required to obtain a license from the city to ensure they are meeting state licensing and inspection requirements.

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The ordinance also requires vendors of pre-packed or non-food items doing business on city property to register to make sure they are an insured business and to provide basic contact information.

Rigg said essentially if a vendor is on city property or right-of-way selling their goods, they will need to provide the city with who they are and what they’re doing, as well as information about their insurance and their state license.

In the ordinance regarding massage therapists, Rigg said it is almost completely being redone. The ordinance requires therapists to be trained in an accredited program and to maintain liability insurance.

Background information provided by the city said the purpose of the ordinance is to address concerns about authenticity of licensing, business history and public safety.

Rigg said currently, the city’s ordinance requires little in proof or background that nearly any person can obtain a license.

The ordinance sets standards for conduct, cleanliness, hours of operation, experience and a background check.

First Ward Councilorr Rachel Christensen brought up a point about how many massage therapists are even trained to massage without shoes on, as it provides better balance and grounding.

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland said there are even some massage therapists who do massage with their feet.

Fourth Ward Councilor Sherri Rasmussen also brought up a question about the length of skirts and shorts required for the therapists, as the ordinance required no more than three inches above the knee.

Rigg said the hardest part is finding the verbiage that cannot be left open to interpretation, as there is always the threat that a business of this type could become a sexually oriented business.             

He said the biggest thing was to set a standard code that would clearly separate a legitimate business from one that is involved with other activities negatively associated with massage therapy and to reduce the opportunities for that use.

Regarding taxi drivers, Rigg said the ordinance adds in basic safety items, including background checks, looking at information with driving history, including charges of reckless driving, excessive speed or driving while intoxicated, and whether the individual has ever had a history of creating fraud.

He said at least half a dozen people contacted the city after the closure of Albert Lea Taxi about starting a business.

“It was in these discussions we realized our ordinance was severely lacking,” he said.

Similar requirements are already in place for drivers with ride share companies, such as Uber and Lyft.

The city will consider the second readings of the ordinances in four weeks to allow time for people to give feedback.

Check back for more information from the meeting.