A panel of state lawmakers received quite an education in body modification Wednesday night while discussing a measure to clarify licensing requirements for Minnesota's professional piercers.
The bill, which strengthens requirements for licensing, and clarifies identification requirements for minors to receive a piercing, also prohibits certain piercings — specifically, horizontal tongue piercing, gum piercing, eyelid piercing and Princess Albertina piercing, because of the health risks they pose. Carol Tepley, president of Almost Famous Body Piercing, pushed for the bill in the wake of Minnesota's relatively new body art licensing law enacted in 2010.
Members of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee were naturally curious. Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, asked what, exactly, a Princess Albertina was.
"Madam Chair and members of the committee, it's a female genital piercing," Tepley said. "Would you like more information?"
The committee declined.
"There's a reason we pushed this late into the evening," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River.
But Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, wanted to know more. She asked Zerwas to explain what genital piercings would not be prohibited under the law. Zerwas demurred, allowing Tepley to answer the question. But Liebling pressed him further.
"I really would like to know," Liebling said, shaking with laughter. "I have a particular reason for asking. Earlier in the day we were talking about inspecting …" she said, unable to finish as the others joined her in uncontrollable giggling.
After regaining her composure, Liebling said in jest: "Rep. Zerwas, I am disappointed that you are carrying this bill and can't explain it."
Zerwas finally took on the question, while deftly avoiding going into detail.
"Many piercings that I wouldn't think of in a million years are still going to be allowed," he said. "God knows why someone wants them, but they would still be allowed under this provision."
The committee then turned to Tepley, the piercer.
"So … I'm not sure what question I'm supposed to answer," she said.
Liebling explained that she was curious whether piercers underwent background checks.
"A lot of us don't give a lot of thought to this because we'd find ourselves in the bottom of a lake before having piercings … but a lot of our health-related licensed professions require background studies. The idea that piercers are doing genital piercing makes me wonder, could a person be a predatory sex offender and still be licensed to do genital piercing?"
Tepley said the changes to current law don't address that, but some cities and counties do require background checks.
Liebling added, "I am a little concerned that if we are doing genital piercing and then not requiring a background check, if you've got somebody in a room and you're going to pierce their genitalia, that's a pretty intimate situation with somebody and, you know … I don't know."
The committee chairwoman, Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, said she understood the concern, and wondered about background checks for aestheticians, who during waxing and other skin procedures may also work near clients' intimate areas.
"I guess there are a plethora of possible questions," said Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, as the meeting closed. "I don't think anyone here is expert enough to know the breadth and depth of this topic."
The measure passed, and Zerwas thanked the committee. "This hearing was as memorable as I thought it would be," he said.