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News >  WA Government

Senate votes aye on eyeball tattoo ban

UPDATED: Tue., April 16, 2019

The Legislative Building at the Capitol is seen June 30, 2017, in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
The Legislative Building at the Capitol is seen June 30, 2017, in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

Anyone in Washington thinking about getting an eyeball tattooed might want to think again, because physicians say the procedure can cause eye damage or even blindness.

But if that doesn’t change your mind, you might want to get it done before the end of June, because the Legislature voted Tuesday to make the practice, which is admittedly rare, illegal. The fine for someone providing a customer with an eyeball tattoo could be as high as $10,000.

On a 47-1 vote, the Senate gave final passage and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee a bill banning scleral tattoos. The sclera is the white part of an eyeball, which is sometimes scratched and then tinted with ink by tattoo artists.

It’s a dangerous procedure, Aaron Lee, a Seattle ophthalmologist and assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington, told a legislative committee earlier this year. That’s because the eye can get infected and in some cases have to be removed. But Lee said he had never actually seen or treated someone with a scleral tattoo.

Senate Health Care Committee Chairwoman Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said the Legislature sometimes has to take up uncomfortable topics “and this is one.”

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, said it may seem strange that there is such a thing as an eyeball tattoo, but there is. “Should we need to ban such a thing? Yes, we do,” he added.

The lone dissenting vote came from Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, who said he was being consistent with his stance on personal freedom, whether it’s the Second Amendment or a personal right to choose something like an eyeball tattoo.

A spokeswoman for Inslee said the staff hasn’t been tracking the bill but will study it when it arrives in his office. If medical professionals are advising against the procedure, Inslee likely will support the ban, Tara Lee said.

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