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Friday, March 7, 2003

Measure Clamps Down on Body Art

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Teenagers who want a tattoo or body piercing would have to bring a parent to the tattoo parlor under a bill unanimously approved in the New Mexico House.
    The measure (HB 480 and HB 615 committee substitute), which headed on to the Senate on Wednesday, would also require tattoo and piercing providers, along with their "body art" shops, to be licensed by the state. Some, if not many, shop owners support the legislation.
    The proposed law would institute statewide many regulations already in place by city ordinance in Albuquerque, including parental consent for minors and shop and tool sterilization standards.
    Reps. Rhonda King, D-Stanley, and John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, the sponsors, said those caught practicing body art without a license would be fined up to $500.
    The law would aim to educate people who give tattoos or piercings about potential health risks, as well as protect those who receive body art, the sponsors said.
    "What is a teen fad may end up being deadly," said King, who unsuccessfully sponsored a similar measure in 1999.
    "The bottom line is, there's really a health risk out there because the needles pierce the skin and can spread blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C," she said.
    According to a 2001 study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, tattoos done at parlors cause about 40 percent of the cases of the virus, which attacks the liver and can be deadly. People who got tattoos were nine times more likely to contract hepatitis C than those without tattoos, the study said.
    The King-Heaton bill is headed to the Senate Public Affairs Committee and the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
    Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero said he hasn't given the bill much thought and doesn't feel strongly either way.
    "But if it's a business, like others, I guess it ought to be regulated," said Romero, who has four tattoos.
    King acknowledged that it might be tough to get the bill through the Senate in the short time remaining in the legislative session, which ends March 22. But she said she is optimistic because the bill has a broad base of support.
    Longtime Nob Hill body art parlor owner Renee Sachs said she supports King and Heaton's measure.
    "We're kind of far ahead of what they are trying to do. It looks like they want to do statewide what we already do," she said, referring to Albuquerque's ordinance, enforced by the city's Environmental Health Department.
    Española tattoo and piercing shop owner Larry Lucero said he also likes the proposal.
    "This gives customers the ability to put some faith in their shop," he said.
    Lucero said his business, Sawbones' Fallen Angel Tattoo and Body Piercing, already sterilizes its tools and doesn't use needles more than once. While he requires parental permission for body art, he would have to take an extra step under the bill and require the permission slips to be notarized.
    But Lucero doesn't mind.
    "So much is being done underground, and the public needs to be protected," he said.
    Under the King-Heaton bill, a parent or legal guardian would have to be present during the piercing or tattooing of a child 17 or younger. In addition, the parent and the person being tattooed would have to show identification.
    Specific rules for getting licensed would be laid out by the state Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists.
    If the Senate approves and Gov. Bill Richardson signs the measure, the law would take affect in June. It would take "several months" for the board to compile the licensing rules, King said.
    The bill calls for body art providers to take a class in blood-borne pathogens in order to get the license.
    There will be a to-be-determined fee for getting licensed by the state, King said.
    Lucero said that's fine by him.
    "Good tattoos aren't cheap and cheap tattoos aren't good, and worst of all they aren't safe," he said.
    Thirty-seven other states have some type of body art regulations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
    "Only 13 states don't have (some type of tattoo and piercing) regulations," King said. "We need this."