Third try for stricter tattoo shop regulations

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger twice vetoed Assemblywoman Fiona Ma's proposal to implement new regulations for tattoo parlors, calling them unnecessary. Ma introduced a new bill, AB 300, in February.

Schwarzenegger was especially critical in his second veto message regarding AB 223, issued in September 2010: It is a common complaint within the business community that 'overregulation' is driving businesses out of California. Look no further than AB 223 for such an example.

He concludes by saying while some may consider the issue important, "it is not appropriate to tell tattoo artists through the statute how to wash their hands and fold their trash bags one inch over the rim of a trashcan."

On the contrary, proponents say.

"There was absolutely no rational reason for that bill to be vetoed," Bruce Pomer, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, said. "It was strictly personal, and it was totally inappropriate."

AB 223 passed the Assembly with a 66-6 vote, and cleared the Senate 30-4.

The bill "had unprecedented industry and public health support," Pomer said.

Ma's bill aims to strengthen existing regulations, including requiring tattoo artists to register annually with local authorities and to meet specified vaccination, blood-borne pathogen training and sanitation requirements. Owners of tattoo facilities would have to obtain and annually renew a local health permit and maintain the facility in specified ways.

Additionally, the bill would authorize health officials to inspect tattoo facilities and suspend their registration under certain circumstances. Owners who operated tattoo shops without the necessary permits could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined between $25 and $1,000, with local regulators determining the exact amount.

Current laws require tattoo artists to register in the county where they do business, obtain a copy of the county's sterilization, sanitation and safety rules and pay a one-time fee of $25. Counties may charge a higher fee at their discretion and can choose to adopt tougher regulations, although only six of the state's 58 counties do so.

In Sacramento County, the Board of Supervisors put off voting on an ordinance in May 2010 to regulate its estimated 165 body art businesses after criticism from artists who disagreed with sections of it. Tattoo artists who register in the county must pay a one-time fee of $47, and the county's one page registration form [PDF] asks only for individual and business names, address and phone number, and categorizes the artist as specializing in tattoos, body piercing, or permanent cosmetics.

The effort to strengthen safety standards for tattoo parlors dates to the late 1990s, Pomer said, when the California Conference of Local Health Officers began examining the issue.

In Schwarzenegger's 2010 veto message, he wrote that the specific regulations did not need to be passed in the Legislature. "If the sponsors wanted a bill that addressed the purported problem, a simple statutory authorization for the Department of Public Health to promulgate standardized regulations would have been acceptable," Schwarzenegger wrote.

Advocates decided to push for a statute regulating tattoo shops because they wanted it addressed in a more timely fashion, Pomer said. Schwarzenegger had previously vetoed a 2009 version of Ma's bill, AB 517. "I am unaware of why the state must take further action to regulate these businesses," Schwarzenegger wrote in vetoing the measure.

Pomer said he does not expect a similar reaction from Gov. Jerry Brown and that the Safe Body Art Act will likely become law.

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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