SACRAMENTO—Earlier this morning, the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee, newly chaired by Assemblymember Ian Calderon, voted 5-1 (with one member a no-show) to pass Isadore Hall III's Assembly Bill 332 on to the next committee that must consider it before it is voted on by the full Assembly.
While there were no raised voices during the hearing, it was clear to Free Speech Coalition CEO Diane Duke that Hall was working hand-in-glove with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) in promoting the bill.
"Assemblymember Hall brought a bunch of folks from AHF with him into the committee," Duke observed. "Darren James was there, as was Whitney Engeran-Cordova, AHF's lobbyist Rand Martin, and the guy who ran those Measure B debates at UCLA, Adam Cohen, but it was clear that this was all about AHF and Assemblymember Hall. Now, we're all trying to figure out what the motivation of Assemblymember Hall is, considering the close-knit nature of what we witnessed and who he had testifying; it was all AHF."
Duke reported that AHF continued to stick to its script regarding why adult performers should be forced to dress in hazmat suits and face shields—and condoms and dental dams—while having sex on camera, even though they are tested for STDs at least once per month, and there have been no on-set HIV transmissions in the hetero part of the industry for more than eight years.
"A lot of misinformation was put out by the AHF witnesses," Duke recounted. "They are still using that '23' number [of alleged HIV infections among performers] that the LA Times had to retract back in 2010. They keep using false data, false information, so it was pretty much the standard stuff."
Of course, the industry was well-represented by Duke, who besides testifying herself, offered director/camera operator Eli Cross, actress Alana Evans, retired actress Lydia Lee and attorney Karen Tynan to explain the pitfalls of attempting to force the industry to make adult movies it can't sell due to the presence of the "barrier protections."
"Our witnesses were brilliant!" Duke assessed. "We talked about what happened in L.A. as far as everybody now shooting outside of L.A. County; we talked about the reality of the industry leaving California should this bill pass; we talked about the fact that we are currently in the process of working with CalOSHA to develop industry-appropriate regulations; we talked about the lawsuit that is currently in the courts about Measure B, and how it doesn't make any sense to move forward with this bill while the constitutionality of Measure B, which is virtually the same as AB 332, is in question, and until the courts make a decision."
One thing Duke was unable to do, however, was show the committee a video clip that featured nearly 30 adult performers and other industry personnel talking about why they object to being forced to wear condoms and the other gear while performing on camera.
"We were not able to show the video to the committee, but we are showing it around the capital as we lobby," Duke noted, "and we're sending links to all of the assembly members that we can't get in to see so everyone will know how much support our fight against AB 332 and Measure B has in the industry."
It's been quite some time since an industry group has testified before a California legislative committee—many remember the several trips to Sacramento in 2008 to fight the "porn tax" then being promoted by Sen. Charles Calderon, the father of this committee's chairman—and the eerieness of the experience was not lost on Duke.
"It's so surreal sitting in a committee where you have people from AHF and people from UCLA pontificating on what the adult entertainment industry means without actually having any conversation with anybody from the industry," Duke noted. "One of the powerful things that happened was when Alana said, 'It's an insult to me that people think that I need to be protected from myself. We are very capable of making our own decisions about our own health, and this is a vital industry to California.' I was just so proud of everybody."
Duke also made it clear that while we may have lost this battle, there are plenty more skirmishes that will follow, and part of her mission in the capital is to lay the groundwork for those future fights.
"The sense that we got is, since Assemblymember Hall has identified this as his key piece of legislation to move through the legislature, I think there was a hesitancy to stop it at its first hearing," Duke said. "I met with Assemblymember Levine afterwards, I asked him to chat with me, and he said, 'You know, we're going to move this forward,' that he's going to vote in favor of it, and my own personal belief is that as a courtesy to their fellow assembly member, they're not going to kill it at its first committee hearing. But he said, 'The presentation that your folks put together was very good and very informative.' So while we did not win the battle, I think we took a significant step toward winning the war. Right now, we're lobbying and speaking with other members of the Assembly and we're getting a warm welcome."
Ironically, Duke said that the best hope for defeating AB 332 may lie with the legislature's anti-tax, anti-regulation Republicans.
"A lot of people disapprove of the fact that we're having conversations with Republicans," she noted, "but my experience of coming to the capital time and time again is that whether it's a tax bill or AB 332, the Republicans are going to save our asses at this point."
Indeed; the sole member to vote against passing the bill out of committee was Scott Wilk, a Republican representing California's 38th District, which encompasses Simi Valley, the northern section of the San Fernando Valley, Val Verde, Castaic, Agua Dulce and most of the Santa Clarita Valley.
In any case, AB 332 now moves to the Labor and Employment Committee, which is expected to hold a hearing on the bill on April 24. That committee is chaired by Assemblymember Roger Hernandez, a Democrat of the 48th District which encompasses parts of El Monte, the Covinas, Azusa and Glendora. Its vice-chair is Republican Mike Morrell, whose district includes Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands and parts of San Bernardino.
UPDATE: According to attorney Karen Tynan, who was present for the entirety of the bill's consideration:
"Darren James spoke on behalf of the bill and had a hard time putting his sentences together. He continues to claim that he was infected on a set in 2004 and does not explain that his infection occurred in Brazil. AHF’s public health manager also testified and cited the usual incorrect statistics from LA Department of Public Health. Mr. Cohen from UCLA testified. [AHF 'consultant'] Mark McGrath was also there.
"Behind the scenes: Isadore Hall is pitching this bill as his only bill for the year and using ALL his political chits for yes votes. At the end of the testimony, Hall gave quite a sermon to the committee members including asking them to 'put on their courage vests' and do the right thing as well as beseeching a yes vote. As a courtesy, members of the committee voted yes, figuring that the bill will be killed in the Labor Committee on 4/24. During the first vote, two members 'took a walk' and the vote was 3 in favor and one opposed. The bill remained 'on call' and later the vote was 6-1 so that Isadore Hall could save face."