D.C. abandons proposed 24-hour wait for tattoos and body piercings


The D.C. Health Department cites ‘strong public opinion’ against regulation requiring cooling-off period. (Kevin M. Cox/AP)

The D.C. Health Department said Thursday that it has abandoned its attempt to force tattoo and piercing customers to wait 24 hours before receiving their body art.

Najma Roberts, a department spokeswoman, said the waiting-period proposal was rejected because of “strong public opinion” against it, as well as a desire to focus on “public health concerns.”

“The ultimate goal is to prevent disease and health threats,” Roberts said in an e-mail.

When a 66-page package of draft regulations was released in September, the department took the position that government might have a role in protecting consumers from permanent consequences that they might come to regret.

“They can’t be responsible for themselves, as well as the person doing the work on them,” Roberts said at the time. “We’re making sure when that decision is made that you’re in the right frame of mind, and you don’t wake up in the morning . . . saying, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ ”

But city tattoo artists and their patrons revolted. They said that reputable businesses already turn away intoxicated customers and that the regulations were needless nannying.

Paul Roe, owner of Britishink, a tattoo parlor on H Street NE, said obvious flaws in the draft rules — none more glaring than the proposed waiting period — overshadowed the need for straightforward guidance on tattoo and piercing hygiene.

“All of the proposed regulations have come into question because of the 24-hour waiting period,” Roe said. He called that particular proposal “embarrassing.”

Although Maryland, Virginia and many other jurisdictions regulate tattoo artists, the District does not. Across the nation, a few scattered jurisdictions, none of them as large as the District, impose waiting periods for tattoos.

The Health Department drafted the rules last year after the D.C. Council voted in 2012 to start regulating the “body art” industry. It is unclear when other regulations might be finalized.

The proposed rules include mandatory hepatitis B vaccinations and biohazard training for tattoo artists and body-piercers and strict regulations governing the use of needles, inks, gloves and other equipment. With the exception of certain ear piercings, tattoos and piercings would be banned for those younger than 18.

Roe was appointed to a seat on the city’s Board of Barber and Cosmetology in December, and he has played a role in modifying the regulations. In addition to the waiting period, a a requirement that artists deny service to customers with apparent “communicable disease, skin diseases or other conditions posing public health concerns” was problematic, he said.

A 30-day comment period on the proposed rules ended in October, but the comments remain under review by agency lawyers, Roberts said. She declined to say when a final set of regulations will be ready for publication.

Roe said he wasn’t certain himself. “It’s the District of Columbia. It could be three months. It could be two years,” he said. “By the end of this year, there should be something that appears close to a final draft together.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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