A trio of notables in District politics announced last Friday their intention to get “tatted up” with an image of the D.C. flag.
They had better hurry.
A shockingly inept third try in two years by the D.C. Department of Health to develop regulations governing tattoo artists and body piercers, released only seven days earlier, is the reason. The three local luminaries should quickly head to the nearest tattoo studio to get inked if they intend to do so within the boundaries of the city’s ensign.
Unfortunately for D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, NBC4 News reporter and local columnist Tom Sherwood, and NPR-WAMU radio talk show host Kojo Nnamdi, it may soon be impossible for them to follow through on their pledge. The three agreed during the weekly live broadcast of “The Politics Hour” to emblazon the flag on their bodies if a listener donated $3,000 to the station.
What they could discover, unless city officials once again put a stop to the now notorious and zany regulatory zeal among the city’s daffy Department of Health hierarchy, is that the ink well is empty.
At least these prominent personalities won’t have to undergo a 24-hour “waiting period.” That “government-as-goddess” requirement, as detailed two years ago in this column, was eventually dropped by officials in response to pushback from local tattoo artists and studio operators, as well as outraged patrons and stunned residents.
Matt Jessup, known as “Fatty” and the namesake two-decade proprietor of three area Fatty’s Tattoos & Piercings studios, is warning that officials still can’t get it right. Jessup is a founder of the D.C. Coalition of Professional Body Artists, a trade association formed in response to this bungled bureaucratic brouhaha and credited with halting proposed regulations in both 2013 and 2014.
The latest rulemaking iteration mandates that all equipment suppliers register with the city under a process not yet developed, despite an immediate start date if implemented. Jessup questions whether this requirement is realistic or appropriate for the small number of local businesses purchasing inks and equipment, and from around the globe.
D.C. artist-practitioners at the 12 studios in the city typically source premium tattoo inks from talented artisans at small reputable boutique micro-suppliers located worldwide. These sources have neither the financial motivation nor corporate wherewithal to register with an obscure D.C. agency for the small volume of potential local sales. Tattoo professionals would be forced to acquire substandard pigments and equipment from approved purveyors – notably Chinese manufacturing conglomerates with mass-market distribution networks.
In other words, high-quality tattoo inks may soon dry up in D.C.
The still-tome-like voluminous regulations also stipulate a slew of other facility and operating requirements more bizarre boondoggle necessitating costly construction and extraordinary expense than offering consumer or public safety benefit. They astonishingly include mind-numbing minutiae on bathroom toilet paper provision.
D.C. legislators and agency functionaries are no strangers to micromanaging enterprise, especially small businesses, absent commonsense. Government performance in this instance, however, is an embarrassment.
Jessup points to straightforward regulations in neighboring Maryland as a better approach, and the reason he opened his third location outside the District in Silver Spring. He notes that the D.C. health department’s tendency to model regulations and create unnecessary regulatory boards based on a California-style scheme produces overwrought oversight and ridiculous rules. Some may argue it’s a justifiable protocol for governing thousands of studios in a large state, but not a dozen in a small jurisdiction.
It should be instructive that there has never been a single incident of disease transmission at a D.C. tattoo or piercing studio during at least 20 years of modern-era commercial operations. Sensible training and certification requirements, along with reasonable facility inspection and safety compliance oversight, are fully supported by local body-art business operators.
It’s the pain of D.C. rulemaking zealots so far incapable of producing workable regulations that far exceeds any discomfort produced by a tattoo or piercing needle.