LA voters approve porn condom initiative

Measure requires porn actors to wear condoms

LOS ANGELES - The head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Wednesday hailed voters' approval of a measure requiring adult film actors to wear condoms, calling it critical to protecting public health, but opponents vowed to challenge the issue in court.

Measure B, the "Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act," was approved by 56 percent of voters during Tuesday's election. It requires adult film producers to apply for a permit from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to shoot sex scenes in unincorporated county areas. Permit fees will finance periodic inspections of film sets to enforce compliance with the requirement that performers use condoms while engaged in sex acts.

Violations will be subject to civil fines and criminal misdemeanor charges.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation led the petition drive that put the measure on the county ballot, saying the act would safeguard public health.

"This is what democracy looks like," AHF President Michael Weinstein said. "It's clear that the voters are ahead of the politicians and the editorial writers. They saw it as a simple issue of health, safety and fairness."

Opponents, however, said they were planning to challenge the ordinance in court and urged the county to delay implementing the measure.

"After being heavily outspent by a well-financed AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which poured millions of dollars into passing Measure B, the adult film industry will not just stand by and let it destroy our business," according to Diane Duke, CEO of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade group representing the adult entertainment industry.

Duke said the group believed Measure B would be found unconstitutional.

But Weinstein disagreed.

"We don't believe that any court of law in California is going to decide that this industry should be exempt from workplace protections," he said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said "the county has an obligation to enforce the law."

"Our challenge and the challenge of the Department of Public Health is going to be to find a way to enforce this effectively and efficiently," he said.

The supervisor explained that while large production companies are easy to find, lots of smaller film shoots take place "underground" and could prove very hard to track.

Because condoms are rarely used in the making of pornographic films, thousands of actors contract sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, hepatitis and HIV, according to the measure's backers, who warned that infections acquired by those in the porn industry are then spread to the larger community.

Proponents also pointed out that actors often lack health insurance, so taxpayers may end up covering the costs of medical treatment.

Opponents contended the ordinance would infringe on individual rights and add unnecessary government bureaucracy, comparing it to New York City regulations governing how much soda consumers can buy in a single serving.

"Safe sex practices are a good idea. However, they shouldn't be forced on adult film actors," according to a ballot argument against the measure authored by county Libertarian Party chair Nancy Zardeneta and four others. "Our individual rights have been fading fast since the Patriot Act. Do-gooders such as New York Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg seek to create a nanny state where our behavior is increasingly regulated for our own good."

Actors are tested monthly and no one has contracted HIV on a set anywhere in the United States since 2004, according to opponents of the measure. According to county Department of Public Health documents, four people were infected with HIV while working in the adult film industry that year.

Weinstein said the subject of condoms and pornography carried a "big 'ick' factor" for politicians, but voters dealt with it in a matter-of-fact way.

"Millions of people went to the polls thinking about safer sex and casting a vote in favor of safer sex," he said.

Opponents, such as the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, said the measure will drive adult film production out of Los Angeles County, costing thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenues.

"While the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has tried to portray any move of jobs outside of L.A. County as unrealistic, the hard truth of the matter is that is exactly what this industry plans on doing now," said James Lee, communications director for the No on Government Waste Committee, which opposed Measure B.

Zardeneta's argument contended that producers "tried using condoms during the HIV scare of the 1990s, and people refused to watch the movies."

"So will the producers just stop making these films? No. They will likely move to areas where they have the freedom to make the kinds of films they want to make," according to the ballot argument.

Citing a report by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Joanne Cachapero, a spokeswoman for the Free Speech Coalition, said the costs of permitting were estimated at $50,000 to $60,000 for a license to cover set-up and administrative costs plus a $2,500 to $3,500 permit fee per individual film shoot.

"It is unlikely that adult producers will elect to purchase business licenses; they will simply go 'underground' or relocate to areas that will welcome the jobs and revenue," Cachapero said.

California is one of only two states where adult film production is legal; the other is New Hampshire.

The Los Angeles City Council voted in January to require the use of condoms on the sets of porn shoots. Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have said they support state legislation governing condom use on adult film sets, but prior to the vote, said regulatory authority on the issue rested with California's Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

"It's being presented to us as, `Let's stop the spread of AIDS," Supervisor Gloria Molina said in July when the board submitted the initiative for voter approval, as required by law. "We all agree with that."

But she worried about county taxpayers taking on liability for enforcement of a workplace issue.

Yaroslavsky said the board now had no alternative but to move forward to enforce the will of the voters, barring a court order.

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