Councilman proposes penalties for those who tattoo minors Artists could face fines, jail if parental OK absent

November 05, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Sally Dietrich says her 13-year-old son isn't happy anymore about the bulldog he defiantly had tattooed on his chest in September -- but neither mother nor son can do a thing about it.

Laser surgery to remove it would cost thousands of dollars the Dundalk mother doesn't have, and the artist who did the job can't be punished because Baltimore County has no law regulating the tattoo business.

That last part may soon change.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, introduced a bill last night making it a crime to tattoo anyone under 18 without parental permission.

He says he has enough votes for passage next month. If he is correct, tattoo artists who work on minors could face up to a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. Baltimore has a similar law, but with only a $50 potential penalty and no potential for jail time.

"Kids make decisions based on fads that they might later regret," Gardina says. After several complaints, he decided to "take the initiative."

The bill is unlikely to be controversial because even the artists favor it. And Sally Dietrich and an alliance of eastern county community groups want even tougher standards for tattoo parlors. Fewer than half a dozen operate in the county.

"You need 400 hours of instruction to pass a state exam to do a facial, yet we don't have tattooists regulated in any way," argues Lorraine Gordon, a nurse and board member of Linover Community Association. She wants statewide licensing, health and environmental inspections and regulations about where such shops can operate.

Her call for tougher regulation is echoed by Bruce Benkert, proprietor of Mr. B's Tattoos in the 7500 block of Belair Road. He said he favors Gardina's bill, and favors more county regulation, especially standards for cleanliness.

"I won't tattoo anybody under 16," he said, adding that even 16- and 17-year-olds must be accompanied by their parents to tattoo sessions. "I think that's a great idea," he said of Gardina's bill.

Vincent A. Myers, state representative of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, said he, too, has no objection. "I honestly don't think anyone in the industry will care."

Community activists and those in the tattoo business also want the zoning regulations rewritten to specifically include the industry -- the community group to restrict parlors and the industry to assure them a way to do business.

Myers' attempt to open a shop in Towson last year was thwarted by the lack of any provision for tattoo parlors in zoning regulations. Benkert's place has been ruled illegal by both the county zoning commissioner and the Board of Appeals for lack of such mention. Benkert is appealing to Circuit Court and remains open.

Community groups opposed to tattoo parlors fear that without specific mention in zoning regulations, such parlors could proliferate.

Gardina's bill "is a start," Dietrich says, but she's working with Gordon and the Greater Eastern Community Council -- an umbrella group -- get full regulation similar to Baltimore's.

Dietrich says her son defied her refusal to sanction a tattoo and now is sorry.

"Too many people make comments about it. I knew that was going to happen," she said. "Kids act on an impulse."

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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