April 5, 2006
Oklahoma, the only state that bans tattooing, would begin to license and regulate tattoo artists and parlors under a measure passed Monday by the state House Health and Human Services Committee. The 15-7 vote sends the Senate-passed legislation to the full House for a vote, after which it would go back to the Senate for the consideration of several amendments approved by House committee members. These include restricting tattoo and body piercing to those 18 and older and prohibiting the businesses within 1,000 feet of a school, church or playground.
Oklahoma legislators have wrangled with the issue for a decade. Last year, a House committee passed a similar bill, but it never got a hearing before the full House. In spite of the state's ban, tattoo parlors operate openly. Many also offer body piercing, which Oklahoma already regulates.
The current measure picked up speed when it received the endorsement of the Oklahoma Department of Health, which was responding to an increase in hepatitis cases blamed on unsanitary tattooing practices.
The department documented a 78 percent jump in new hepatitis C infections between 2000 and 2003, and 34 percent of those infected said they had a tattoo. A 2004 investigation into a hepatitis B outbreak in LeFlore County found a potential link to home tattooing. Also in 2004, emergency workers in Atoka County logged four cases of antibiotic-resistant skin infections in four patients who had recently gotten nonprofessional tattoos.