HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Tattoo artists in Connecticut could soon face tighter regulations under a proposal requiring them to be licensed by the state that's advanced in the General Assembly.
The proposal pits public health advocates who want more training for artists against an industry that says it wasn't consulted and that existing regulations suffice.
One in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo, a 2012 opinion poll conducted by Harris Interactive found, and the public is entitled to expect that tattoo artists are licensed, proponents of the legislation say.
The practice poses health risks, says Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, a proponent of the bill. He said he was shocked to learn that tattoo artists are not licensed in Connecticut. Potential health hazards in getting tattoos include the transmission of diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C as well as allergic reactions to dyes.
"It's no different than a nurse giving you a shot," said Adinolfi, "and they're licensed."
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey also supports the bill, saying in a statement Monday that tattooing needs to be "as safe as possible" and called public health "one of the top responsibilities of the government."
The proposal would require tattoo artists to complete training and first aid courses and to pass an examination. License applicants would have to pay an initial $250 fee and a $200 renewal fee every two years.
Regulations do exist but are insufficient to protect customers from the health risks of tattooing, said Leslie Balch, director of the Quinnipiack Valley Health District, a regional health department.
Connecticut law requires tattoo artists to operate under the supervision and instruction of a physician. The physician must evaluate their knowledge, inspect their shops at least once a year and make that information available to local public health departments upon request.
"We don't test them on their knowledge; we look at the facility," said Balch. "We are not knowledgeable about the equipment that is used for tattooing. We don't do the medical oversight of skin piercing."
Adinolfi said tattoo artists should receive at least as much scrutiny as hairdressers, who are licensed by the state.
But the proposed regulations have met with opposition from tattoo artists who say lawmakers are going about regulation the wrong way.
Jay Kelly owns Shamrock Tattoo Company in West Hartford and has more than 20 years of experience administering tattoos. He said lawmakers did not consult people who know the business or ask anyone affiliated with the tattoo industry to testify at the public hearing for the bill.
"It's one thing if the state came out and said, 'We're concerned about people getting clean tattoos,'" he said. "But they're just looking for money, and there's no money in it."
Kelly said the state should enforce existing regulations rather than imposing new ones that come with an additional fee.
Opponents of the legislation are joined by Jewel Mullen, the state commissioner of public health.
In written testimony submitted to the Public Health Committee in March, Mullen said additional staff would be needed to implement the licensing program. Such personnel costs are expected to outweigh revenues by more than $32,000 in 2014 and more than $104,000 in 2015, according to the state Office of Fiscal Analysis.
Mullen also objected to lawmakers' circumvention of her agency's established review process for new licensing programs.
The bill has passed out of three legislative committees without opposition and is expected to be taken up by the House of Representatives in the coming weeks.