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Stamp of approval: New law requires certification for Florida tattoo artists


 New laws governing Florida tattoo artists and shops will go into effect January 1, 2012 in which oversight and licensing will go from the county level to the state level and each tattoo artist will have to be individually licensed as opposed to working under a shop's license. Additionally, minors will need parental consent to get tattoos in Florida in 2012 - a rule that currently differs from county to county.

If someone tattooed your arm in a dank corner of their basement or kitchen, you’ve met a scratcher, an underground tattoo artist inking Floridians illegally and giving the professional industry a bad name.

Which is why new state legislation going into effect Jan. 1 is largely welcomed by professional tattoo artists in Lee and Collier counties even though it means legitimate artists working under a shop's license will have to pay for classes to obtain their own certifications.

"They want to make it more difficult for people to get licensed, which is fine," said Jason Raleigh, owner of Web Works Tattoo on Golden Gate Parkway in Naples. "The safer the industry is, the better off everybody is."

Parlors in Florida are now licensed to an owner whose employees operate under his or her license. A medical professional such as a doctor or dentist oversees each shop and performs regular inspections, but not necessarily on site.

"Tattooing is really unlicensed now," said Diane Holm, spokeswoman for the Lee County Health Department. "The only thing licensed is the biomedical waste license."

Under the new law, tattoo artists will be responsible for taking the state-approved tests next year. There are 17 tattoo parlors in Collier County, according to the county health department, and 42 in Lee County.

"What these requirements do is put the onus on the artists to get their training and license and be responsible for the health care and service they provide," said Deb Millsap, spokeswoman for the Collier County Health Department.

One facet of the new law also requires parental permission for 16 and 17 year olds to receive tattoos. In the past, minors were fair game though most shops interviewed said they don't bother with that age group.

"My shop won't even entertain it," Raleigh said. "We'd be responsible for proving it's a legal guardian and we would rather just stay out of that arena. There are some 18-year-olds I don't even consider adults."

The push for more regulation comes from the Florida Professional Tattoo Artists Guild and is more than three years in the making.

Bill Hannong works as the guild's legislative liaison and owns tattoo shops in Cape Coral and Fort Myers called Amazing Tattoo Studio and Peter Tattoo Studio respectively. He said Florida lawmakers have been allies in helping to establish these laws for the industry.

"For the first time, the state of Florida, the industry and the health department have the opportunity financially and judiciously to go after the underground activity," he said.

The laws were approved during the 2010 legislative session, and while they go into effect Jan. 1, tattoo artists will have a six-month window to comply with the new standards. A January lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott over rule-making slowed the process for the Florida Department of Health, which is now behind on approving tests and courses for artists to take.

"The department realizes it's probably going to be a year learning process," Hannong said.

Jennifer Hirst, a spokeswoman with the state health department, said it is training its own officials on how to approve tests and should finish that step by January. Courses will then be administered by private providers once their curriculum is approved by the state.

The three-hour courses will cover blood borne pathogens and communicable diseases — "the science part of the job" as Hannong said. Artists must score at least 70 percent on the test of 50 or more questions to earn a license.

"It's funny because they create a law and then write it afterwards. The horse follows the cart a little bit," said Jimbo Carriero, owner of Body Branding Tattoo on Airport Road South in Naples, who agrees more oversight will improve the industry as a whole.

Under the new laws, tattooing outside a shop or without a license or tattooing a minor without parental permission carries fines associated with a second degree misdemeanor, meaning those scratchers could pay $500 or more per infraction. Rack up more than one second degree misdemeanor charge and your punishment could reach felony standards and fines of $1,500.

The system will be complaint-driven, Hannong said, meaning tattoo shops will have to report what they hear from customers who have previously paid for work by scratchers to local law enforcement.

"There's so much illegal tattooing going on and someone is going to get hurt and they're going to say tattooing is bad. We're the ones that are going to have to take that mud in the face," he said. "I hope this will put enough teeth in the law for law enforcement to get these guys and slap a felony on them."

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