Body Artists' Licenses Held Up in DC

The District of Columbia has yet to regulate tattoo and piercing shops even after passing legislation to do so in 2012, the News4 I-Team discovered.

Inside a dark basement in September 2013, the I-Team first uncovered the problem. At an underground shop run out of a Northwest D.C. house, lines of young women, some minors, waited to get tattoos and body piercings on the cheap. The man inside pierced tongues, ears, belly buttons and even more intimate areas.

The shop was shut down after the I-Team story, and the city promised to crack down, too. The D.C. Council had already passed a law in 2012 requiring the Health Department to start issuing licenses specifically for body artists. But the I-Team discovered, more than two years later, not one "body artist" license has been issued.

“It's just outrageous that the bureaucracy is that slow, that there is a lack of urgency," said Terry Lynch, a D.C. parent who knows about the risk. His teenage daughter got a tattoo years ago without his knowledge. "It's like a medical procedure. Are the needles sanitized? What's the follow-up care? So you can imagine any parents concerns about the health risks."

Under the new regulations, body artists in the District aren't supposed to perform any procedures on anyone under 18. They should also be trained and follow other safety rules like single-use needles and gloves. But no one is checking. We found every state in the nation except Nevada and DC have regulations for the industry.

"It's time for the city to step up and take action and regulate it for the interest of everyone, particularly the minors and the kids," said Lynch.

D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt wouldn't talk to the I-Team on camera about the hold up but said in a lengthy email, "Proposed rules undergo several layers of review before becoming final regulations," and that, "Currently, DOH is in the process of reviewing almost 1,000 comments" on a third version of rules.

But Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who heads the Committee on Health and Human Services, said these rules should have been decided in 2014. "There's no excuse for it to be still out there," she said. When the I-Team asked her about a real deadline for implementing new regulations, she said, “Realistically, I realize that this has been a change in administration and there are probably hundreds of regs that they have to go through. I can guarantee you this is one of their priorities."


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Once those regulations are finalized, illegal shops could face three months jail time and a $2,500 fine. But the Health Department couldn't give the I-Team a timeline of when you will be able to walk into a licensed tattoo or piercing shop in the District, frustrating some parents like Lynch.

“Move on it," he said. "Get it done."

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