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Lawmakers consider outlawing eye tattoos
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/12/2010 12:04 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - State lawmakers face a $13 billion deficit and a bevy of other calamitous issues, but there's been one vote so far this year that made members cringe more than any other.

Eyeball tattooing.

More specifically, tattooing the whites of the eyes. Technically it's known as scleral tattooing and is accomplished by injecting ink into the fibrous eye tissue or by placing small items of jewelry under the surface.

The description brought gasps from state senators, who recently voted to make such tattooing illegal.

"Yeah, unfortunately it's happening in other states," state Sen. Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat, told astounded colleagues on the Senate floor.

The proposal is scheduled to go before a House committee for debate April 15. Lockport Democratic state Rep. Emily McAsey is the chief sponsor in the House.

According to lawmakers, there's no therapeutic or medical use for the procedure, which could end up masking diseases that would otherwise discolor eye whites. Making the procedure even more unnecessary, they say, is the existence of scleral contacts that produce the same results - changing the color of the eye whites - on a temporary and safer basis.

Of note, there is a related procedure in which dye is injected into the cornea that is used to treat defects in the iris. However, the proposed law only deals with scleral tattooing and there is an exemption if done by a licensed doctor.

Otherwise, performing or offering to perform eye tattoos could land someone in jail for a year and garner a $2,500 fine.

The proposal easily cleared the state Senate, prompting Republican Sen. Brad Burzynksi to quip, "do the ayes have it?"

But there was dissent.

East Moline Democrat Mike Jacobs cast the lone "no" vote in the Senate.

"If you want to tattoo your eyes, go right ahead," Jacobs said. "Crazy."