DC Tattoo Artists Petition to Stop Proposed Regulations

For a second time in a year, Washington's tattoo shops and artists say, the Health Department has proposed rules that show a basic lack of understanding of their work. But this time, they're ready, thanks to a coalition formed last year.

The tattoo industry in the nation’s capital has a big problem: The city’s efforts to regulate the field strike the artists as pretty off the mark.

In April, the District of Columbia Department of Health backed away from a set of controversial proposed regulations for the trade—specifically one that would have required a 24-hour waiting period before a person could get a tattoo—due to pushback from both the industry and the public. Though the draft rules, first proposed in 2013, were dropped, the city is still required by a 2012 statute passed by the City Council to regulate the industry.

This would effectively make all tattooing a violation of the regulations.

New draft regulations released last month don’t include the most controversial proposals from the previous set (among others, the waiting period and a rule that would have prevented artists from working on people they believed to have a communicable disease). Nonetheless, they drew skepticism among people working in the field.

The difference between last time and this time? Now the tattoo artists are organized and ready for the fight.

The DC Coalition of Professional Body Artists, a group launched last year in response to the first proposed rules, was ready with a Change.org petition as soon as the new draft regulations came out. As of Friday afternoon, it had nearly 1,000 signatures.

Though the issues this time around aren’t nearly as headline-grabbing as the waiting period, they’re just as controversial in the eyes of artists and shop owners. For example, one proposed regulation would require artists to use “hollow” needles, a product that the petition points out is used for piercing—not tattoos. “This would effectively make all tattooing a violation of the regulations,” the Change.org petition states.

In an interview with The Washington Post, coalition founder Fatty (birth name: Matt Jessup) said the group had met with the Health Department before the second round of draft regulations was released.

“They seemed to acknowledge that that first round of regulations was inappropriate,” Fatty told the newspaper. “Leaving that meeting, I thought they had heard us, but apparently not.”

Fatty, who owns Fatty’s Tattoos & Piercings locations in the Dupont Circle and H Street neighborhoods, has created a petition of his own in print form that takes issue with the “sloppily written regulations that betray a complete misunderstanding of the trade they intend to safeguard.”

The city is currently accepting comments on the draft regulations on its website.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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