SACRAMENTO — Minors who want their bodies pierced would need a note from Mom or Dad under legislation that won overwhelming approval Tuesday in the Assembly.
The bill, by Assemblyman George Runner Jr. (R-Lancaster), would make it an infraction to pierce a child under 18 unless a parent is present or provides notarized consent. Only ears would be exempt under the legislation, which went to the state Senate on a 71-1 vote.
Runner, who has two children, said he took an interest in the subject when a constituent complained that her 16-year-old daughter had managed to get her navel pierced without parental permission.
The assemblyman said he took action not because he is anti-piercing, but because he is "pro-parents' rights."
"This bill is about parents helping children make good decisions," Runner said. "Parents need to be involved in an invasive process like body piercing. They can ask questions that many well-meaning 14-year-olds wouldn't even think of."
If the bill (AB 99) becomes law, violators would be slapped with a $250 fine. Parents also would have grounds on which to sue piercers for civil damages if they failed to obtain an OK before poking holes in a child, Runner said.
"I think that will be a strong deterrent" for those who might ignore the law, he said.
An ancient tradition in many cultures, body piercing can be perfectly safe if certain precautions are followed. Problems can occur, however, if piercings are improperly placed and equipment is not fully sterilized. The biggest threat is the spread of hepatitis or the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
Runner's is one of two bills taking aim this year at the fast-growing piercing industry, which now includes practitioners who ply their trade at beachfront stands and even "mobile piercers" summoned by pager.
Last week, the Assembly approved legislation that would establish health and safety standards for piercers and tattoo artists and require annual, unannounced inspections by county health officers.
Written by Assemblywoman Valerie Brown (D-Kenwood), the bill (AB 186) would also create a task force to examine the need for licensing.
John Casey, an aide to Brown, said the health risk inherent in piercing and tattooing make some sort of regulation essential.
"Currently, there is absolutely no regulation of this industry--zero," Casey said. "Even manicurists need 1,000 hours of training. But if you're a body piercer, you have nobody you have to answer to."
Three years ago, a similar bill by Brown was approved by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson, who said there was no evidence of a health risk to Californians.
This year, however, Brown's bill is tied to Runner's legislation--meaning that Wilson must either sign both or veto both.
In addition, both Brown's bill and Runner's proposal have the backing of the Assn. of Professional Piercers, a San Francisco-based group advocating tough standards to improve quality in the industry.
David Vidra, the association's medical specialist, said many states are considering or already have adopted laws governing piercing.
"There are some piercers who are violently against regulation, but we wholeheartedly support it," Vidra said. "If we're going to be professionals, we need to act like it and follow standards."
As for requiring parental consent, Vidra said some piercers already do--and all of them should.
"Kids need parental permission for medical treatment, so why not for piercing?" he said. "Some 16-year-olds are incredibly mature. But the parents are the responsible party. It's as simple as that."