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Regulating rebellion

Like the miniskirts and long hair that raised eyebrows in an earlier era, body piercing has emerged as a '90s symbol of teenage rebellion. Pierced cheeks, eyebrows, tongues, navels, and unmentionables are popping up on teenagers across the nation, and the trend shows no signs of ebbing anytime soon.

Parents have complained to lawmakers that they have no say in their fashion-conscious teenagers' decisions to get pierced. Others worry about health risks of piercing--most commonly, treatable skin infections, but also the remote possibility of contracting infectious diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS from unsterilized piercing instruments.

Spurred by these concerns, state legislatures are reining in the trend. More than half of the nation's states have provisions on the books regulating the body-piercing industry, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and Oregon, for example, require parental consent for minors seeking to get pierced. Several other states are debating the issue.

"This year was the year for body piercing and tattooing," said Lisa Speissegger, who covers health policy for the NCSL. As the trend spreads, she said, "I expect most legislatures will have looked into this."

No more bagpiping

Although it is under fire for allegedly misusing state money, the Lawrence, Mass., school district will have its entire $80 million budget for the 1997-1998 school year paid for by the state.

The payment arrangement is the result of the state's 1993 Education Reform Act, which gave a boost in state aid to poorer districts. Lawrence, the only district to be fully funded by the state, is Massachusetts' poorest.

But Education Commissioner Robert V. Antonucci has warned the district to watch its spending, or risk losing its underwriter.

Reports of the 11,650-student district's questionable spending surfaced last fall, and included revelations that reform dollars were being used for $3,000 laptop computers, cut flowers, and bagpipe lessons even as Lawrence High School was being stripped of its accreditation.

In February, Gov. William F. Weld appointed an audit board to investigate how Lawrence and the Bay State's 371 other districts are spending the $1.3 billion each year in additional aid made available by the 1993 law. The state auditor will release a report on school spending later this month.

--KERRY A. WHITE [email protected]

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