Bill aims to close piercing loophole

County Council measure would require parental permission for minors

May 14, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Concerned about the proliferation of navel hoops and tongue studs in teen-agers, Baltimore County is proposing criminal penalties for body-piercing of minors without a parent's permission.

A bill scheduled for debate tomorrow and a vote later this month would prohibit piercing of those younger than 18 without written parental consent. Violators would face a $500 fine, 90 days in jail or both.

The measure would close a loophole left in previous county regulations that required minors to obtain parental consent for tattoos.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, introduced the legislation after a parent complained that his 17-year-old daughter developed medical complications when a steel ring tore through her skin.

"I am not trying to prevent minors from having their bodies pierced," Gardina said. "I merely want their parents to be involved in the decision-making process." Gardina's bill is co-sponsored by four members of the seven-member council, meaning its passage is all but assured.

The measure would affect professional shops as well as in-home, amateur piercings -- giving parents and police an additional tool to punish irresponsible behavior.

Owners and managers of several county body-piercing establishments say the legislation wouldn't force them to change their practices, because they already refuse minors.

"We don't pierce anyone under 18, period. It's too much hassle," said Dwon Barnes, 30, manager of Harm City Gallery on York Road in Towson. "Half the time, they don't take care of it, and whether it's the kid's fault or not, the parents are going to blame you. We lose thousands of dollars in business every week. We get calls [from minors] all day long."

Tracy England, 30, a co-owner of Balticore Steel in Rosedale, said that several shops in eastern Baltimore County are willing to cater to young teens but that hers is not among them.

"As a piercer and a shop owner, I have morals," she said. "If you pierce a 12-year-old's navel, by the time she's 18, it won't be in the navel. It stretches as they grow."

England's business partner, John Scribner, said do-it-yourself jobs pose risks. Puncture the tongue in the wrong place and severe bleeding or even facial paralysis can result. Coatings that flake off safety pins and become embedded in skin can become infected, he said.

The new restrictions would also cover traditional ear piercings for minors; Gardina said parents should also be involved in those decisions. At Claire's, an accessory shop at Towson Town Center, manager Agata Olkowska said store rules require a parent to be present to sign documents before an ear-piercing.

Browsing at Claire's with her daughter Jenna, 11, on a recent afternoon, Susan Lazzaro said she supports the proposed law.

"I think that's a wise move, but of course, I'm the mother," said Lazzaro, a nurse from Phoenix. "Sometimes kids make instant decisions, without realizing the consequences. And body piercing is one of those things."

But Chris Tanca, 20, sharing a drink with friends at the food court, disagreed.

"Rebelling from your parents is an important part of growing up," Tanca said. "And getting piercings and tattoos are a great way of doing that."

Gardina, a soft-spoken, bespectacled former police officer, said he has no first-hand experience with body piercing but quipped that the thought had entered his mind.

"I'm thinking about an earring. And shaving my head," Gardina said. "But it depends how redistricting goes."

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