JOPLIN, Mo. —
The owners of local tattoo shops say they are in favor of a state proposal to increase licensing fees for tattoo artists, as long as the additional revenue is used to enforce health rules aimed at improving public safety in their industry.
Mike Roland, who owns Body Accents, 1201 S. Main St., said he believes legitimate shop owners should be able to absorb the proposed increase in the cost of a license from $30 a year to $100 for two years. He said he’s willing to pay more if the state will use the funds to crack down on unlicensed artists who may be doing unsafe work.
“It keeps the riffraff out,” he said. “If you’re a professional shop, it shouldn’t bother you at all. What we really need is to get rid of all these people doing it in houses.”
A proposal published for public comment earlier this month would increase the two-year license fees charged tattoo artists and body piercers, and those who do both.
The higher fees are projected to generate about $120,000 for the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration during each two-year licensing period, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Matt Barton, department spokesman, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, said the fee increase is needed to pay for annual health inspections of tattoo studios and “to defend ourselves in court if we revoke a license.’’
The state inspections are in addition to those performed by local health departments.
Barton said the number of tattoo studios in the state has increased over the past five years. The department, he said, needs the rate increase to cover the cost of those additional inspections.
The fiscal note attached to the order of rule making shows that 700 practitioners will see their fees increase from $30 to $100 and that 200 combination practitioners — those who do both tattoos and body piercings — will see their fees increase from $40 to $120.
In addition, 130 establishments will see their fees increase from $100 to $200 and 180 combination establishments will see their fees increase from $200 to $300. All of the fee increases are biennial.
Barton said there are 35 or so boards that regulate professional registration in the state. He said the boards, under state law, must be “self-sustaining’’ in their oversight of each profession, including the board that oversees the tattoo industry. The increase in revenue from the fee increase, he said, will be used by the department and will not become part of the state’s general revenue fund.
Jeremy Witherspoon, owner of Freaky Tiki Tattoo, 1303 W. Seventh St., said money is less important than protecting public safety.
“The money doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “The problem is we have people that are tattooing without a license, and there are shops that are not licensed (by the state).”
Witherspoon said that in order to obtain a state license, a tattoo artist must present a certificate of apprenticeship from a licensed artist.
“If you don’t have an apprenticeship, you’re not taught sterilization techniques, or cross-contamination (prevention),” he said. “It’s just as dangerous as going to a surgeon and them having somebody cut open on the table before you and they didn’t clean up. It’s that serious.”
Roland said that in addition to the fees he pays for state licenses on his tattoo artists and piercers, he also pays annual license fees to the city of Joplin to operate his business. He said both agencies are responsible for inspecting his shop. He said the state sends an inspector once a year, while a city inspector is supposed to come every six months.
State licensing requirements include weekly tests of the autoclave — a device that uses high-pressure steam to sterilize tattoo tools. The sterilization process is needed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, HIV and staph. City codes require quarterly inspections of the same equipment.
“When you’re licensed (by the state), you have to provide weekly autoclave tests,” Witherspoon said. “If you’re not licensed, you’re not testing. If nobody’s monitoring that, there’s no guarantee that their autoclave even works.”
Ryan Talken, health inspector with the Joplin Health Department, said there are 13 licensed tattoo shops in the city.
“Anytime the skin is broken, there’s the opportunity for infection,” he said. “That’s the reason for the inspection of the facility. To make sure they’re clean, that they have sterilized equipment, that the equipment is in good repair.
“You’re dealing with blood-borne pathogen risks at tattoo shops. Anytime you’re dealing with the opportunity for infectious-type disease, you have to make sure there are sufficient barriers in place,” he said.
Talken said the city’s code for licensing a tattoo shop does not require a state-issued license for tattoo artists or piercers.
“(The code) was written long before there was any state licensing,” he said. “There was never any notion at that time that there would ever be a state license. So because of that, there would not have been any reference to state licensing.”
He said a code revision has been drafted that would make the city ordinance more closely resemble the state guidelines.
“It’s been written, and it’s being reviewed as we speak,” he said. “Hopefully soon, but I can’t give any times on that or what kind of changes may be made by the time the final version comes out.”
Staff writer Wally Kennedy contributed to this report.