An AFIG Tattoo & Body Piercing Forum
By MATT HOPF
THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER Springfield, IL
Posted Apr 20, 2010
Of the thousands of bills being considered by Illinois lawmakers this session, one of them is certainly not for the squeamish.
Senate Bill 3359 would make it illegal for anyone, except licensed physicians, to tattoo the whites of a person’s eyeballs. Scleral tattooing is an experimental practice in which dye, ink or sometimes even jewelry is injected into the whites of the eyes, using a needle or scalpel.
It is considered extremely dangerous and could result in scarring or hemorrhaging of the eye, or even blindness.
This week’s State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the tattooing legislation and why lawmakers are pushing it.
Q: Why do people get eyeball tattoos, and how is it done?
A: The process is largely used for cosmetic reasons.
A tattoo artist normally uses a needle, scalpel or other instrument to inject ink or dye into the whites of someone’s eyes. The ink is usually thinned with an antibiotic eyewash. The solution is then injected into the sclera.
Another process allows physicians to tattoo the cornea instead of the sclera. That more common practice is usually used to cover up scars from cataracts or other complications.
Q: Why is regulation needed?
A: Scleral tattooing can cause blindness or lead to scarring or hemorrhaging of the eye.
Currently, the practice is not prohibited under the state’s Tattoo and Body Piercing Establishment Registration Act. The act prevents only tattoos on skin that is sunburned or infected or that has a rash, acne or open sores.
Tony “Styx” Killion, owner of Styx Unlimited Tattoo Emporium in Springfield, said he refuses to perform scleral tattoos.
“I don’t think it’s a very smart choice to make,” he said. “That’s a hardcore procedure. I’m not trained to do it, and I don’t want to.”
Q: What would the legislation do?
A: It would make it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone except licensed physicians to inject ink or dye into someone’s eyeball. Anyone caught giving scleral tattoos could face a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
However, Killion said he is not sure that penalizing the artists will prevent people from getting eyeball tattoos.
“If somebody’s going to want it done, they would pay whatever it takes,” he said. “(Lawmakers) don’t need to outlaw it for me not to do it.”
Q: Who’s behind the bill?
A: Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, sponsored the bill in the Senate. He said the measure was a response to Oklahoma lawmakers outlawing eyeball tattoos last year.
The legislation passed easily in the Senate last month, with the only ‘no’ vote coming from Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. He said eye tattoos should be a matter of personal choice.
“I believe in self-expression,” he said. “If a person wants to do that, it’s their choice.”
The legislation is in the House, where it is sponsored by Lockport Democrat Rep. Emily McAsey. The bill cleared a House criminal law committee last week.
“It’s really about safety,” McAsey said of the legislation. “We need to get this on the books.”
Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, said he would like the legislation to strengthen the penalty for inmates who perform scleral tattoos. Reboletti said he believes inmates might inject ink into their eyes to show an alliance to certain street gangs.
Q: Are lawmakers pushing any other tattoo-related bills this year?
A: House Bill 4895 would make it a Class C misdemeanor for someone to act as a parent or guardian of a minor getting a tattoo or piercing. The crime would be punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $1,500 fine.
Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, is sponsoring the legislation. It passed with a unanimous House vote in February.
The bill now is in the Senate, where the sponsor is Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield.