by David Ramsey
Last Thursday, amendments to SB387 — Sen. Missy Irvin’s body modification bill — removed the ban on scarification and clarified the definitions regarding implants. These needed, ahem, modifications changed the legislation from a clumsy and unnecessary ban to more reasonable regulation. Max mentioned this Thursday in his legislative roundup but I thought I’d add a quick post given all the coverage we’ve given the bill.
The original nanny-state bill sailed through the Senate Public Health committee and the Senate with very little in the way of substantive discussion. The amendments to the bill represent a victory for the citizen activism of Misty Forsberg and other body artists and their consumers, who kept showing up to testify and flooded legislators with e-mails. Yes, ultimately Forsberg was advocating for the interests of her industry, but these are small businesses without much political clout, and they were never opposed to strong regulation. They simply did not want the government establishing unreasonable restrictions on what folks could do with their own bodies.
The key victory here was removing the ban on scarification entirely. The bill was also amended to remove the prohibition on dermal implants, which were defined in such broad and vague terms that arguably navel piercings would have been banned. Subdermal implants, a significantly more invasive procedure in which the skin is completely closed over the implant, will not be allowed in body-art studios. In practice, federal regulations on plastic surgery already keep body artists from doing subdermal implants; the body artists and body-art enthusiasts in attendance at the committee meeting told me that federal law and a lack of regulatory structure in the state makes subdermal implants unrealistic for body artists in Arkansas at this time.
Body artists there to testify against SB387 ended up testifying for it instead, along with SB388, a second body modification bill addressing training and professional standards. "It takes it from a gray area to legitimizing what we're doing and making it a legal, regulated form of body art in this state," Forsberg told me afterwards. She said that initially lawmakers had not taken their concerns seriously and she was happily surprised when she heard about the amendments at the last minute.
After Irvin's frankly embarrassing performance in Senate committee, it was nice to see Rep. Deborah Ferguson , who came on as a co-sponsor to the amended bills, give a reasoned presentation. "Everyone has a different idea of beauty but we should try to ensure that it’s done safely," she said.
In a great summary of a regulation-not-prohibition approach, Ferguson said, "We can actually prevent a lot of unnecessary disease by not rejecting people’s desire to decorate their bodies. I’m not for banning anything. There’s not a culture in the world that didn’t practice some form of tattooing at some point in its history. It’s not a fringe practice — it’s a natural desire to create meaning and beauty in the world."
The bills are on the House calendar today.
Previous coverage: You can read our initial report of the Senate committee meeting here, a further explanation of why the original bill was such a bad idea here, and an argument for why the principle matters here.