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Committee draws up tattoo rule
Parlors required to copy parents' identification before working on minors

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY - When Neil Foster began getting tattoos at the age of 12, he thought he'd want the panther, cross and set of skulls he had drawn on his body forever. He was wrong.

The homemade tattoos Foster got from the ages of 12-16 are all gone now, drawn over with new art to disguise his childhood choices. A new rule passed by the state health committee this week is aimed at helping other youngsters avoid the same ordeal.

Operators of tattoo and body piercing shops are now required to photocopy the identification cards of parents and legal guardians who bring their minors in for body art. The copies must also be retained as permanent record.

Many of the state's tattoo shops already keep copies of IDs on file for insurance purposes and some avoid tattooing minors altogether. State health officer Don Williamson said the committee's decision is designed to protect both businesses and minors and to give upset parents some recourse if someone fraudulently signs off on their child's body art.

"So that parent can go back and find out who allowed their child to get the tattoo and maybe be able to take some legal action if they wanted to," he said. "They wouldn't be able to do that without that copy."

Anthony "Fingers" Hupcej, manager of Gulf Coast Tattoo Inc., said at least one minor comes into the Mobile shop each week and tries to pass off a stranger as their parent so they can get a tattoo.

"They'll bring in some guy of the street and say, 'He's my dad.' Or they find a friend's dad or uncle or somebody that drinks and promise them a case or beer if they'll sign for them," Hupcej said. "They would have to show ID to prove they're the kid's legal guardian, but there are plenty of places around that just don't care. They'll do it anyway even when it's obvious the kid doesn't even know the guy's name."

Williamson said health inspectors will start checking to see if shops are keeping the photocopies on file. The shops are inspected by the same employees that survey restaurants, septic tanks and hotels and motels, he said.

According to the state code, violating any of the rules is a class C misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 90 days, a fine of up to $100 or both.

Hupcej said his location has been not only photocopying ID cards, but also checking minors' birth certificates for years.

"It's just a main way of not being sued in a sue-happy world," he said.

Justin Kontzen of Aerochild tattooing in Birmingham was one of several industry professionals who helped review the state's rules earlier this year and said all of the state's 67 counties have at least one tattoo or body piercing shop.

Most shops won't have a problem with the new rule if they're a legitimate, professional business, he said.

"It's pretty much up to you to control who gets work done," he said. "Is it worth $100 taking some kind of crap from mad parents and having to deal with problems? If not, nine times out of 10 (the shops) would understand. But there's always a place that will do it. If you're not in this for the art and just there for the money, then you'll be mad about this."

Minors - those under age 18 who are not emancipated - are only allowed to get tattoos and body piercings in Alabama with prior written, informed consent of a parent or legal guardian.

But Foster said with today's divorce rates and so many minors having different last names and addresses from their parents, he's just decided to avoid the issue altogether by not even allowing minors into his Capitol City Tattoo shop in Montgomery.

"The child may be 15 or 16 and one parent does not care, but the other parent does. Then you may get a phone call from an angry mom," he said. "There's nothing they can do - it's legal because the dad signed for it - but it's just more of a hassle."

Oni Ink co-owner Ed Taylor said he and his brother Charles already go a step further than the state's rules by requiring notarized consent forms before minors can receive body piercings.

The Montgomery shop doesn't allow minors to get tattoos at all, he said.

"It's permanent - tattoos stay forever," he said. "They just want tattoos because they think it's cool at the time, but it's going to permanently alter their image. That's why we only want an adult with a sound mind if you're going to commit ... to a permanent change like that."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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