State Rep. Arthur Verow saw too many tattoos on high school basketball players who looked too young to have them, which sent him digging into state rules.

He discovered it is in Maine regulations — but not state law — that a licensed tattoo artist must be at least 18 years old.

Verow, a Brewer Democrat, wants to tighten that up and increase license fees for out-of-state tattoo artists, as well as draw attention to the fact that people in Maine must be at least 18 years old to get a tattoo — no exceptions.

But it’s the minors themselves — and their parents — who might need the reminder.

“I had a mother actually come in here, bawling her eyes out, because her 17-year-old had a scarred-up, horrible swastika one of his 17-year-old friends dug into his back and wanted me to cover it, and I told her I couldn’t do it,” Angela Whiteley, owner of Ink Junkie’s Tattoo Clinic in Lewiston, said. “She’s like, ‘But he’s scarred for life.’ Yeah — and he let that happen to himself, and he has to live with that until he’s 18 and he can fix his mistake.”

Reputable, licensed parlors aren’t tattooing children or hiring minors to do it, she said.

“Unfortunately, the only people affected by laws are law-abiding people,” Whiteley said.

A public hearing will be held on Verow’s bill, LD 61, by the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee at 2:15 p.m. Thursday.

State Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, is the bill’s co-sponsor.

He said Friday he supported clarifying the minimum age in state law. It’s more difficult for a member of the public to find a department rule and easier to change a rule than a law in the future.

Verow said he also wanted to raise the license fee for nonresident tattoo artists from $250 to up to $1,000.

“Sometimes carnivals come to town,” he said. “There may be a tattoo artist that comes and they set up shop and then they’re gone.”

Those people can be difficult to track down after the fact and more difficult to regulate, which justifies the increased fee, Verow said.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services licenses tattoo artists in the state. There are 160 state-licensed tattoo artists and 41 tattoo/body piercing artists, according to a spokesman. All these tattoo artists are 18 years of age or older.

By Maine law, parents can give permission for a body piercing if a minor is under the age of 18, but they cannot give permission for a tattoo.

DHHS spokesman John Martins said underage tattoo complaints are followed up by a health inspector, who investigates with the local police department or sheriff’s office.

Alpha Rickard “The Rick” Clemons IV, a tattoo artist in Lewiston for 15 years who works at Skin Deep Tattoo and Piercing, said he’d like to see something in the new law that allows for exceptions, such as an apprenticeship under the supervision of a licensed artist.

“The states’ laws are totally scattered,” Clemons said. Some states allow apprenticeships; others don’t require a license, period, he said. “If I have a son that I’d like to train to tattoo, I can’t even let him touch a gun until he’s 18. The more hurdles that are created, the less younger people are going to get involved.”

He and Whiteley both have had parents ask if they can give permission for their child to get a tattoo, believing it’s allowed under the law.

When they are turned away and minors then skirt the rules, the quality is a dead giveaway, he said.

“You can go on eBay and buy anything you want for tattoo equipment, and people are stupid. ‘Oh, you’ve got a gun, you must be good,’” Clemons said. “If you see a kid running around with high-quality ink, he’s probably over 18. These kids are running around with garbage on their arms. I know, because when they turn 18, they come see me and get it fixed.”

Whiteley called them “house hackers,” unlicensed individuals who set up in home kitchens and bathrooms or motel rooms and charge as little as $30 for a tattoo.

“It doesn’t matter your age; it doesn’t matter any of that stuff because it’s already illegal for them to tattoo outside of a state-sanctioned shop,” she said. “A lot of parents just don’t know what to do. A lot of times, these kids just don’t say anything or they try to hide it. We’ve had some kids walk in here who have had extremely infected tattoos and have asked us how we can help them.

“It’s like, you go to a hospital,” she said. “You don’t come here.”

kskelton@sunjournal.com