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Debate on Tattoos, Piercings Leaves Its Mark on Legislature

By Kalynda Thayer, home-schooled
For the Journal
    Ever thought about getting a tattoo? How about a tongue piercing? Or even more extreme, a tongue splitting? If so, here's something you might be interested in: Two bills making their way through the state Legislature would require a teen under 18 to have parental consent before getting a tattoo or piercing— other than ear piercing.
    Originally, there were three bills, but the most stringent one— prohibiting all body art on minors— has been voted down. The other two are moving through committees, close to a floor vote.
    Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, introduced the stringent bill, as well as Senate Bill 81, which has passed the Public Affairs Committee and is now in the Judiciary Committee. This bill is the one Adair thinks is most likely to pass.
    "These kinds of businesses that can pose a risk to your health need to be regulated and observed," he said. "We're one among only 11 states that have no regulations for these kinds of issues. Body art is forever. You make more mature choices when you're 30 than when you're 15, so by requiring parental consent, we have at least one more person who can help a minor stop from making a decision that they later regret."
    Right now, a kid of any age with enough money can get a tattoo or a piercing, provided the business is willing to deliver. And there's nothing in the law that says it can't.
    So, let's say one of these bills passes and you want a butterfly tattoo on your shoulder. Your first step?
    Ask your mom. She would have to sign an official consent form, go with you to the procedure and present the form, along with her photo ID. Unless you'd rather have your dad do it.
    The same would be true for scarification (flesh-removal, branding and tongue splitting are some examples) and any piercings other than ears. If you managed to get a tattoo without following that procedure, the tattoo parlor, not you, would be at fault. (At least until your parents heard about it.)
   
Not buying it
    Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, doesn't think Senate Bill 81 will go through, and doesn't want it to— but not because he thinks minors should be free to purchase any kind of body art.
    "I don't think it will pass, and I am going to vote against it," McSorley said. "If a parent can't teach their child to make the right choices, then the fault is with the parent and not with the business that applied the body art. Nor is it the state's job to make up for bad parenting. This responsibility lies with the family, not with the law."
    Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera, introduced House Bill 755, which would set pretty much the same limits as Senate Bill 81. But Vigil has a different perspective.
    "This was introduced to me by constituents who were concerned about their daughter," Vigil said.
    The girl had gone to a tattoo parlor in west Las Vegas, N.M., during her lunch break for a tattoo and a piercing.
    "They called me, and weren't so much worried that their daughter had done this, but that there was no way they could tell if the procedure had been sanitary and safe or not," Vigil said. "My bill is concerned with monitoring the procedure itself. My concern is that if there's business out there that is not regulated by the state government, especially when they use needles, it's a severe health risk."
   
Room to participate
    Some people distinguish between tattoos, which are with you forever, and piercings, which can be undone and, if left alone, will close up after a while.
    Adair isn't one of them, especially when it comes to tongue piercings.
    "Most piercings are not as permanent in scarification as tattoos," he said. "On the other hand, I have a photograph of a swallowed tongue piercing that is right next to a fetus. A young girl got her tongue pierced, ended up swallowing it, became pregnant and the tongue piercing came loose and ended up in her body."
    Adair considers tongue piercings greater health risks than tattoos, even though tattoos can cause infections. He points out that tongue piercings can cause poisonings.
    So where does this leave you?
    With a voice. You can have a say in whether these bills are passed.
    "Come up to the Legislature and testify," said Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, the only senator to vote against the stringent bill before it was tabled. "You are welcome, and your presence is called for."
   
Your body, your right? Students speak up.
    I think that's a little much. It's my body, it's mine and I'm going to do what I want with it. If I want to get a tattoo, then I want to get a tattoo, and it shouldn't be a big deal. I don't understand why people are trying to put limits on what a person can do with their own body.
    -- Madison Mace, freshman, La Cueva High School

    I think you should be able to (get a tattoo) if you have a parent with you. Your parents should have the right to know and be there to be sure that you're safe about it, instead of you just going and doing something stupid. But piercings I don't think should be such a big deal. They come out easily, but a tattoo's going to be there forever.
    -- Carolyn Kraus, junior, Sandia High School

    I think it's weird, myself, but if your parents say you can do it, then it should be OK. But I don't think that just a note or something should be required. The parent should be there. It's their kid until they turn 18— they have the final say. As a parent, they have a right to say what goes on in their kids' lives.
    -- Kristen Moreno, sophomore, Rio Rancho High School

    I don't really know what I think about this. I think that it's wrong though, for people to get tattoos so early, because they're just messing up their bodies and they're going to have to deal with it. It's not something anyone should just go do. If you make a mistake, that mistake's going to be with you for the rest of your life.
    -- Haskell Lewis, sophomore, Albuquerque High School

    I think it really depends on where you're coming from. If you're the teenager, then you're going to say 'Yeah, it's my body, I can do what I want with it. To stop me from doing so is wrong.' But if you're the parent, then it's 'You know what, you're not an adult yet, you don't know the consequences of what this could really do to you.' It really depends. But I think it's up to people to eventually make their own decisions.
    -- Molly Wright, junior, Eldorado High School

    I really think that it's a dumb idea to stop us from getting tattoos and stuff done. I mean, it's the home of the free, and people should be able to do what they want. If they want to get a tattoo or a piercing, then they can go ahead and get it. That's their decision. I can go sign up to die for my country before I can get a tattoo? I think that's bogus.
    -- Trenton Glasper, sophomore, Albuquerque High School

    As long as you've got your parents' consent, I think it's OK, but I think that it's bull that some people so young can get those things done to their bodies. It's a health thing, too. If someone's allergic to the ink or something, there could be some serious problems.
    -- Isaiah Baca, sophomore, South Valley Academy

    I think it might be a little much, but (legislation is) still right. It's your body; you should be able to decide what you want to do with it— not the government— but your parents still have the final say. If you're their kid, then they have the right to say no.
    -- Kameilia Ferguson, senior, Grants High School

    I think that (legislation is) actually a good idea. I think that, at that age, you're not old enough to make those kinds of decisions. It's something you'll have to live with for the rest of your life. I have a friend who had a tattoo done pretty spontaneously, and I think it'll be something she's going to regret.
    -- Marina Solomon, senior, Albuquerque Academy

    I think the government is invading a little too much; it's your body, and your personal decision on what you do with it. I think they're getting into a little too much detail with the whole thing. If a person wants to be stupid and go get a tattoo when they're 13, then that's their problem, and the government shouldn't be responsible for it.
    -- Jerry Pohl, senior, Laguna-Acoma High School

    I think that, because they're our bodies, then we can do what we want with them and we're going to pay the price later anyway if it doesn't turn out right. It's a form of individuality; it's who we are. Why should people judge us by our piercings or our tattoos; why can't they judge us for our personality?
    -- Ariel Lybarger, freshman, Sandia High School

   
Web the people
    With the Legislature half over, there's still a lot going on at the Roundhouse. To find out more about bills, who your representatives and senators are, and how bills are doing, go to www.legis.state.nm.us. To find out when a particular bill will be in committee and when you can testify, call your representative's or senator's office.