Last week, there was some buzz in Washington, DC over House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hanging at Tattoo Paradise. Turns out it was for a quick cameo in this video (below) filmed for the White House Correspondents' Dinner in which Vice President Joe Biden takes faux-VP Julia Louis-Dreyfus out for a wild night, including a trip to Tattoo Paradise.
The tattoo scene starts at 4:35 in this 7-minute vid but it's a cute watch overall if you haven't seen it yet.
In September, we wrote about a ridiculous proposal that there be a 24-hour waiting period to get tattooed in Washington, DC, which was part of a 66-page document that outlined a series proposed body art rules. Paul Roe, owner and artist at Britishink Tattoos, has been fighting absurd affronts against tattooing, and for legitimate and practical regulation. In this guest post, Paul writes about the history of his fight and the potential future of tattooing in the nation's capitol.
BY PAUL ROE
As a green tattoo artist in the late 1990s, I was, of course, captivated by all aspects of tattooing; its enormous variation across cultures, the range and scope of visual elements I could draw on and the history of tattooing fascinated me. It still does to this day.
Anyone looking into modern (electric) tattooing will sooner or later come across a story involving the regulation or outright banning of tattooing in a particular area at a particular time. Charlie Wagner (the poster icon of American "old school" tattooing) was arrested TWICE for tattooing children in NYC - once in 1902 and again in 1906...there was not a minimum age requirement back then so he was not prosecuted just cautioned...twice.
My first exposure to the law vs. tattooing was in 2001 when I read of Ronald White of Columbia SC who had been arrested for tattooing on the radio in protest of the ban on tattooing in South Carolina. Following in the footsteps of New York City in 1963, South Carolina banned tattooing for fears of the spread of Hepatitis. But this was the twenty first century, surely it was a non-issue these days?
His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of South Carolina and that made me very mad indeed, but what could I do? I was in Washington and had no reach in the south...but I had clients, lawyers clients at that, I asked for any assistance and as it turned out we were represented by Judge Ken Starr and the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis pro-bono for almost a year. In that time, enough press was had, TV and radio interviews that South Carolina started to get a little nervous...the case was being proposed to The United States Supreme Court to be heard on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. The brief was filed, South Carolina folded and tattooing was legal again in the state.
That's one way Capitol Hill can influence tattoo regulation but The District of Columbia is a strange and unusual place with no tattoo regulations of its own as of yet. It's NOT a state; it's subject to federal oversight and the office of The Mayor.
The Board of Barbers and Cosmetology chairperson (at the time) lived a few blocks down the street from us, and one day while out walking, we met and she asked if I could come in for one of their meetings and help with some issues they were having. I, of course, said yes.
There had been concerns over the tattooing of permanent
make-up in salons around the city, the Cosmetology Board had been asked to
investigate and she wanted a tattooist to advise them not a permanent make-up
technician. Fine...whatcha got?
It was frustrating sitting though meeting after meeting but the system was being observed, the procedures noted and the one thought on my mind was "this is going to take a while..."
Mayors of DC came and went and still there was no consensus with the Cosmetology Board as to how tattooing could be regulated. I even addressed The National Interstate Council of Barbers and Cosmetologists at their 50th anniversary conference here in DC in 2005. Half of them loved it and were in full support, half of them looked at me with disgust.
Sitting in on that meeting, looking directly at me was Pat Sinatra (a veteran tattooist who I have immense respect for), she had driven four hours to "tear me a new one..." I didn't know she'd be there but recognized her entering; I had met her several times at the Alliance of Professional Tattooists conventions. Afterwards we shared a bottle of wine and concluded our interests were the same: if Cosmetology Boards were to regulate tattooing it should be done with tattooists input, industry specific knowledge in plain language that protects both the public and the practitioners.
From 2005 to 2009, I consulted for the Cosmetology Board. They wanted, at one point, to set up regulations to govern tattoo schools in the District, much the same as barbering schools. I explained why that was not a good idea. They thought the minimum age to be a tattooist should be 17. I explained why someone who was not legally an adult could not take on such a responsibility. Back and forth, deeper and deeper into convoluted code that I couldn't make head nor tail of, until I was told by the Health Department that they didn't have any budget for this and it probably would not come to fruition.
It was at that point I stopped going to the meetings; they were unproductive and bogged down by input that was legitimate concern but coming from professionals in radically different trades with no insight into tattooing beyond watching "reality" shows on TV.
Flash forward to 2012 - The District of Columbia enacted the Regulation of Body Artists and Body Art Establishments Act of 2012, effective October 23, 2012 (D.C. Law 19-0193; D.C. Official Code 7-731(a)(10) and 47-2809.01 et seq.) (2013 Supp.)) This came about as an audit of the Department of Health (DOH) by the Office of The Inspector General (OIG) was in progress and the Act was written and proposed before the OIG report was released on December 19th, 2012. The report states:
"The Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) Audit of the Department of Health's (DOH) Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division (FSHISD) (OIG No. 09-2-34LQ)....
Our audit found the following conditions requiring management's attention:
D.C. Code 7-731 does not authorize DOH to regulate the inspections of tanning, tattoo, body art, and body piercing establishments. There are also no formal guidelines for inspecting these establishments."
On Friday, Washington D.C.'s Health Department released a 66-page notice of new proposed regulations governing "body artists and body art establishments," which has caused a huge buzz -- and rightfully so -- because of some ridiculous provisions thrown into the mix.
One such proposal is the 24-hour waiting period to get a tattoo. As reported in the Washington Post, regulations governing tattoos and piercings were passed by the D.C. Council last year. D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander introduced the body art bill when she discovered that D.C. was one of the few places that did not regulate the industry. Naturally, many professional tattooers support reasonable regulation to maintain health and hygiene standards; however, within these new proposed regulations are "moral" not health protections, which could, in fact, subvert the whole purpose of having any regulation at all.
As Paul Roe of British Ink told the Washington Post: "Simple regulation is effective regulation. Overregulation will kill the profession and drive it underground and make it less safe for everybody." Paul also noted in the Needles & Sins FB page: "D.C. released these with no input from the industry, just unqualified council and health dept committee patchwork regulations."
The 24-hour waiting period proposed was inspired by rules passed in two Wisconsin municipalities, but it has not passed in big cities like D.C. One reason is that it would be an incredible drain on city resources to actually enforce. Will city health officials become tattoo regret police? Perhaps they should also hang out at bars at 1am and help prevent other regrettable decisions, like hooking up with the guy in the Nickleback t-shirt.
The ridiculousness is not lost on many. Tons of media outlets have decried the waiting period and even the Post article notes that the spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray said that "the Mayor has 'serious doubts about the regulations as proposed' and will consider the comments received before issuing final regulations."
The comments are a good way to take action to ensure that provisions like the waiting period are stricken from the rules that get adopted. There's a 30-day period for commenting, which began Friday. You can submit your arguments to Angli Black at (202) 442-5977 or email Angli.Black@dc.gov.