Florida Tattoo Law
12:49 PM
tattoo law.jpgI've been meaning to post this excellent Miami New Times article on Florida's tattoo laws sooner but my own legal work took over last week. The story raises so many interesting issues on the regulation of the industry, which warrant serious discussion, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on our Facebook group page or via Twitter.

Reporter Chris Sweeney discusses the history and implementation of "The Practice of Tattooing," which went into effect January 1st. But even more interesting are the different factions of tattooers for and against enforcement of the law. Chris begins the article by setting the scene of a scratcher, Louie, tattooing a howling woman in his apartment. The woman's boyfriend had just gotten tattooed as well and is sleeping off the pain under a SpongeBob blanket. The family schnauzer roams into the room, looking for attention. Taking a break, putting his machine on a folding snack table (with a blue medical napkin on it), Louie grabs a Bud Light Platinum and tells his wife and daughter, "She's gonna take a crap when she sees how awesome this is."

That's all set out in the first three paragraphs of this 5-page article, and I'm already scared shitless. Maybe it's because Louie doesn't have an autoclave and operates in an unsterile environment. Or that people off of Craigslist come to him -- when he's not working at the hardware store -- to "salvage" the already bad tattoos they have, as you can see from the hot mess above. But what bothers me most are that there are tons of Louie's out there putting people at risk for more than just a shitty tattoo.

As Chris reports, the Center for Disease Control released a review of studies that found "no definitive evidence for an increased risk of HCV infection when tattoos and piercings were received in professional parlors." BUT the risk was "two- to three-times higher risk for HCV infection when the tattoo was received in a nonprofessional setting."

The new Florida law would make Louie's operation a second-degree misdemeanor (a felony if charged three times) and he could be fined $1,500 per violation. The law requires a yearly tattoo license for artists and shop registration, a 70% score on a blood-borne pathogens exam, and the studio must pass inspection by its county health department. No animals, no sleeping quarters, and there's got to be a working autoclave.

Most professional tattooists wouldn't have a problem with such regulations, especially compared to the previous law, which required shops to be under "direct supervision" (later changed to "general supervision") of a physician. Where the controversy really lies, as detailed in the article, is in its enforcement.

Tom Meyer, President of the Florida Tattoo Artist's Guild says his organization will work with health officials to crack down on violators:

"The big thing with the new law is it's all complaint-driven," [...] "So now, every time people come in with bad tattoos or tattoo infections, we as professional, legitimate shops will get as much information as we can on who did it and give that information to the health department or local police."
Tom adds that this is all necessary to protect professional tattooing as a "viable livelihood."  But other artists quoted in the article disagree with tattooists "ratting" each other out. Many expressed that self-regulation of the industry -- and just being a better tattooist -- is the best way to keep tattooing viable. In fact, some professional tattooers like Stevie Moon are seriously pissed off about this:

"You're supposed to help your brethren, not fucking burn them down," [...] "This is an organization I thought was supposed to support the community, and instead they want to try to police it. They're a bunch of scared little fucking boys still trying to start a tattoo mafia and make it legit by hiding behind this law and the whole scratcher thing."
Personally, I can see both sides of the argument here. I'm in favor of regulation if it is drafted based on recommendations from the tattoo industry, which this was. But I feel that enforcement should be done systematically by health officials and not a tattoo witch hunt. [The fees and fines will pay for it.]

Many great artists started on kitchen tables, but today, with the easy accessibility of information, kits, supplies and clients looking for a deal, the risks are greater. Anyone looking to make extra money on the side can find a way to do it, not just the artist who truly wants to tattoo but can't find an apprenticeship. 

So what do you think? Are you for stricter rules or self-regulation, and who should police those who don't follow the rules?

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