Dan Walters: An old saga contains new plot twist

dwalters@sacbee.comApril 10, 2013 

It's a familiar refrain in the state Capitol: Legislation to regulate a major industry surfaces, and industry emissaries warn that it could drive production and its jobs to another state.

But Tuesday's hearing of the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee had a distinct, only-in-California flavor.

The affected industry is the production of pornographic films and videos, the bill at issue would require actors who engage in on-screen sex to wear condoms, and the witnesses testifying on the measure included an actor (for) and actresses (against).

Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, is carrying Assembly Bill 332, which is patterned after a Los Angeles County ordinance approved by voters last year. Like the local law, it is backed by anti-AIDS and public health groups.

"This is a workforce safety bill," Hall told the committee prior to its 5-1 vote for it. "We have to protect our workforce."

Former porn actor Darren James, the central figure in an outbreak of HIV in the industry nine years ago, told legislators that "in an instant, my life was turned upside down (and) the industry turned against me."

However, Olivia Lee, a former porn actress, and Alana Evans, who has made hundreds of porn films, opposed the bill. Evans argued that the industry's testing procedures are a better guard against infection than condoms because she now knows the test results of any actor with whom she has sex.

"I don't want to risk having sex with someone who is HIV-positive," she said.

Actors' positions vis-à-vis condoms aside, porn production's economic impact is the bill's real purpose.

Porn is a multibillion- dollar colossus in the San Fernando Valley and provides an indirect subsidy to the non-X-rated film business by keeping its camera operators, sound technicians, makeup artists and other off-camera crews employed.

Economic impact is why the Valley Industry and Commerce Association – the San Fernando Valley's chamber of commerce – has declared its opposition. It's backing industry claims that production will move to other states if its actors are required to wear condoms that would spoil the cinematic fantasy of spontaneous and frenzied sex.

Some production has already fled Los Angeles for other California locales because of the local ordinance, industry witnesses said, and an exodus to other states would ensue should the condom rule be extended statewide.

A spokeswoman for the industry-backed Free Speech Coalition told the committee that "bringing about barriers to the industry … would make it impossible for the industry to survive."

It will be interesting to see whether the Legislature's conservative, pro- business Republicans who rail about onerous regulation will stand up for the porn industry.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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