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San Bernadino County supervisors back legislation for tattoo, piercing shops

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to support legislation that would tighten up regulation of oversight of businesses that provide tattooing, body piercing and permanent cosmetic application services.
The county is developing an ordinance of its own, and Supervisor Josie Gonzales requested that staff report back to the board in the next 45 days with licensing requirements for such facilities in unincorporated areas of the county.

"It is in the best interest of the consumer that when they go to acquire this service it's done so in a clean, healthy and very educated environment," Gonzales said Tuesday.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, is proposing AB 223, the Safe Body Art Act, which would establish minimum statewide health and oversight standards for tattoo parlors and body art businesses. If passed, it would go into effect on July 1, 2011, said Lance Larson, the county's director of legislative affairs.

Sponsors of the proposed legislation, which include the Association of Professional Piercers, maintain that the absence of statewide regulations and standards puts public health at risk by increasing the threat of blood-borne diseases, particularly Hepatitis C and HIV.

"Despite requirements in existing law and repeated calls from both health practitioners and established body art professional trade organizations, California still does not have enforceable statewide standards that are sufficiently detailed for consistent and effective local enforcement," said Board Chairman Gary Ovitt in his letter of support to Ma dated Feb. 24.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked clusters of antibiotic-resistant skin infections to unlicensed tattoo artists who didn't follow proper sterilization and needle disposal procedures.

A 2001 study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas determined that people who had received tattoos in commercial tattoo parlors were nine times more likely to be infected with Hepatitis C than people who did not have a tattoo.

The Safe Body Art Act would require practitioners to register with their county and comply with regulations related to vaccinations, blood borne pathogens training and site inspections. To ensure consumer safety, it would require owners of a body art facility to obtain and annually renew a health permit from their local health agency.

Under existing law, anyone who performs body art without first registering with their local health agency or who violates the sterilization, sanitation and safety standards can be subjected to a $500 fine. Ma's proposed legislation would make performing body art on people or operating a business or an event without the proper permits a misdemeanor, and would allow local health agencies to assess an administrative fine of up to $1,000.

Health inspectors routinely inspect the 86 permitted tattoo parlors spread throughout the county to ensure they are in line with basic public health standards, county spokesman David Wert said.

If passed, the Safe Body Art Act would authorize local health officials to establish registration and annual inspection fees to offset the costs associated with administering the provisions of the law.

In addition to the 86 tattoo parlors, there are 20 other businesses in the county specializing in body art service that health officers survey regularly. They typically find that operators are not testing sterilizers as often as they should and that they have not complied with blood-borne pathogen training requirements, according to a county staff report.

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