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.
I'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?