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Tattoo Regulation in The District of Columbia:

In 2012 The District of Columbia enacted the Regulation of Body Artists and Body Art Establishments Act of 2012, effective October 23, 2012 (D.C. Law 19-0193; D.C. Official Code §§ 7-731(a)(10) and 47-2809.01 et seq.) (2013 Supp.)); until that point there was no regulation governing the practice of tattooing the Washington D.C.

This came about as an audit of the Department of Health (DOH) by the Office of The Inspector General (OIG) was in progress and the Act was written and proposed before the OIG report was released on December 19th 2012. The report states -

The Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) Audit of the Department of Health’s (DOH) Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division (FSHISD) (OIG No. 09-2-34LQ)….
Our audit found the following conditions requiring management’s attention:
D.C. Code § 7-731 does not authorize DOH to regulate the inspections of tanning, tattoo, body art, and body piercing establishments. There are also no formal guidelines for inspecting these establishments.”

On December 14th 2012 there was a Council hearing on the proposed regulations for body artists and establishments in Washington DC. Here are the videos of that hearing broken down into 15 minute sections.

The council was asked to consider age 18 as a minimum requirement to receive (and to give) a tattoo, and also addressed “standard precautions” (safe work practices) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines – these are things that most tattoo shops voluntarily do every day anyway and would not change the running of a tattoo shop in DC.

The Body Artists and Body Art Establishments Act required proposed regulations to be submitted within 180 days of the date it was signed by the mayor on August 17th 2012.

As a result the DOH released 66 pages of proposed regulation on September 16th 2012 containing the now infamous “24 hour waiting period”. 
This seems to be in conflict with The Constitution of The United States.

The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld Petitioner Ronald P. White’s conviction for engaging in the art of tattooing. (State v. White, 348 S.C. 532, 560 S.E.2d 420 (2002)).
His conviction was overturned at the end of 2002 as a result of extensive legal representation before the United States Supreme Court recognizing tattooing as a protected form of free speech and making tattooing legal again in South Carolina.

The proposed 66 pages of D.C. regulations also contain:

“303.2   If a body artist has reason to suspect that a customer may have a communicable disease, skin diseases or other conditions posing public health concerns, the body artist shall:
(a)          Deny the customer service and recommend the customer be examined by a licensed health care provider; or
(b)          Cease a body art procedure that is in-process and recommend the customer be examined by a licensed health care provider.

This too is unsettleing . The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits denial of service to any customer that may have a communicable disease and as “Standard Precautions “ (defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) ) ensure that even with the potential for infection the customer is treated the same as any other tattoo client.

“Standard Precautions represent the minimum infection prevention measures that apply to all patient care, regardless of suspected or confirmed infection status of the patient, in any setting…”

Two of the proposed regulations seem to be unenforceable bringing into suspicion the entire document.
The public comment period directly following the release of the proposed 66 pages of regulation focused on the 24 hour waiting period as it was the most sensational and gained the eye of the press:

The City Paper Washington DC - the story was picked up on the A.P. wire and was seen in Paris too - 

The DOH received more than 5,000 responses to the 24 hr. waiting period alone.
By this time the DOH and the council member who defended the 24 hr. rule (Councilwoman Yvette Alexander (D)) had changed their minds looking for a re-write and another proposed set of regulations have to be put together.


The Body Artists and Body Art Establishments Act states that the Board of Barbers and Cosmetology will oversee the license and regulation procedure. They have created three seats on the board to be taken by professionals in the field. 
It is a matter of public record that I have applied for one of these three seats in order to provide assistance in the process and to act as a watchdog for over regulation. I have a simple stance:

  • Maintain voluntary upholding of OSHA standards.
  • A minimum age limit of 18 years old to receive and to administer a tattoo.
  • Bloodborne Pathogen training and certification.
  • Scaled licensure based on experience; apprentice, artist, instructor and a separate facility license.  Temporary licenses for visiting artists.

This would not change the day to day running of any shop in Washington D.C. We would maintain the standards we already have and ensure that the standards are the same across the city for both our customers and the independent contractors who tattoo them.

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