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Calif. Porn Tax Bill Stalled in Committee

Assemblyman Charles Calderon places AB 2914 in 'suspense file'

Calif. Porn Tax Bill Stalled in Committee
SACRAMENTO - After an hour and a half of discussion, Assm. Charles Calderon's porn tax bill, AB 2914, never made it before the nine members of the Assembly Revenue & Tax Committee for a vote yesterday, with Calderon electing to keep the bill in the suspense file.

"The suspense file is for any bill that costs more than a certain dollar amount, a threshold, and in this committee, that's $500,000 to implement," explained Matt Gray, California lobbyist for the adult entertainment industry.

"What happens is that all the bills that cost over that $500,000 mark are put in that suspense file, and then at the end, they prioritize which bills come out based upon how much money they have to spend," Gray continued. "The earliest it could come out is this coming Monday, and the latest is sometime probably in August. It's a two-thirds vote bill and can move without deadlines. But the important part to remember is, it was supposed to be considered along with all other bills on suspense file yesterday, and he announced that it would not be taken up on suspense."

There are several possible reasons for Calderon, who chairs the Revenue & Tax Committee, to have avoided voting on the bill, including his not having enough "yea" votes on the committee for passage, or because the author wanted to change the bill's language.

"He [Calderon] acknowledged in committee that there was an unintended omission or unintended conclusion," Gray said, "that allowed an item to be taxed multiple times, and he said basically he only wanted things to be taxed once, so he has to rewrite the provision."

In all, more than 150 adult entertainers and supporters crowded into the hearing room at the state capitol yesterday, many of whom had been urged to attend by Larry Kaplan, executive director of the California chapter of the Association of Club Executives (ACE).

"We had an historic crowd," Kaplan observed. "Previously, they've never had more than a dozen people show up on anything; we had over 150. They let us have a little bit of testimony, then it was, 'Everybody else just give your name, rank and serial number.'"

In all, six opponents of the bill were given a chance to address the committee, including Gray; Dr. Sharon Mitchell, founder of AIM; Gil Sperlein, attorney for Titan Media; Dr. Bryant Paul, author of several studies on secondary effects; and Adam & Eve contract star Kayden Kross.

"She's our new spokesperson, I think," Gray said of Kross. "She gave an excellent talk; she's very well-spoken."

Kross countered the misstatements of fact from one supporter of the bill, Shelly Lubben, a failed porn actress who made approximately a dozen movies during her (very) short-lived career, and who now runs a ministry that attempts to convert porn stars to fundamentalist Christianity.

"There was some nutjob there named Shelly Lubben," Gray exclaimed. "Ohmigod, is she a trip!"

Lubben testified that sexually transmitted disease is rampant among actors, and that on porn sets, "Marijuana and meth and you name it, they'll give it to you."

"She's saying drugs are rampant and producers are giving girls drugs," Kross explained, "and I made the argument, this is a business like everything, and drugs are costing girls money. No one likes it, no one condones it, no one supports it, no one gives it out. We're here to make money and we're not going to waste time on girls that are high or stoned or whatever they're doing."

"I have never actually seen drugs on sets or seen anyone hand them to anyone," Kross added.

Also testifying in favor of the tax was former stripper Diane Khoury, who claimed that, "There's a lot of sexual slavery that goes on and a lot of people don't talk about it." In fact, women participate willingly in adult movies, and no performer is forced to do anything she doesn't want to do.

Also present to counter some of Calderon's arguments was Craig Dueling, general manager of the Crazy Horse cabaret in San Francisco, who brought 10 of his dancers with him to the event.

"I decided to ask our entertainers, what is it that you do, if anything, when you're not working her as an exotic dance entertainer?" Dueling told AVN. "And I was shocked by what I learned about my own people. For instance, one has a graduate degree in math. Another one is a microbiologist for NASA in Mountainview. Phaj, who's from India, is a banking officer at Wells Fargo in the commercial lending department... Sterling just passed her oral examination to be in the San Francisco Police Department, passed the agility test, passed the written test, passed every interview so far, and if she passes the polygraph examination, she's going into the police academy. Brittany just graduated with her master's degree in chemistry from UC-Berkeley. Boldt Hall Law School is one of the top five law schools in the nation; we just had Lola get accepted into Boldt Hall. We have another one, Sasha, who's in law school at the University of San Francisco. We have two registered licensed dental hygienists."

"These are no puny, Mickey-Mouse jobs," Dueling argued. "I've got 80 of these that I've got written down, out of 109 dancers. So the other side of this is, Calderon was quoted in a TV interview that in effect states that when they come out of the industry, they end up either addicted to drugs or other substances and with no skill set whatsoever, and end up on Medicare, Medicaid, Medi-Cal or other social programs that cost the state money and therefore the industry that causes them to be like this ought to pay for it. That's just flat-out wrong, and our dancers prove it."

Dueling also noted that his club's surveillance system had been used by local police to apprehend two murderers, and that he was a good neighbor to local businesses.

"The secondary effects of our business are outstandingly positive," he said.

Dueling was one who was not given a chance to expound on his views, but managed to get some of them out anyway.

"Matt Gray said, 'Craig, since you know a lot of people that live in Fiona Ma's district [West San Francisco], she's an important swing vote. Let her know that you have 13 relatives that live in her district; make those your first words,'" Dueling recounted. "So even though we were told only to state our name and that's all, I acted as if I was dumb and made that statement and some guy [Vice Chair Chuck DeVore] speaks up and objects and says that I'm out of line and how dare I, and it sort of made me feel horrible."

Gray noted that during his own testimony, he had some harsh words for Calderon.

"Calderon's not going to be sending me a Christmas card, because I basically smacked him in the face pretty hard in committee when I announced that in all my 15 years in the capitol, this was the single most dishonest piece of legislation I had ever seen, and I had seen some doozies," Gray said. "I held up all the peer-reviewed studies we'd provided to the author's office, dozens of them, independently researched and published studies, which strong dispute the conclusions contained within AB 2914, and we have to beg the question: Why, in light of all these claims that he makes, why in the last 40 years has there not been a single study which supports the claims of 2914? In his closing comments, Calderon said basically he encouraged the staff and committee to ignore all the studies and the so-called research; he likened us to what the tobacco industry had done in promoting their own studies that smoking was not harmful, and he said merely to respect the observations of the industry witnesses that he had presented to the committee, Shelly Lubben and Diane Khoury, who both admitted that they were undergoing therapy from mental health professionals."

Gray said that he and the other attendees were targeting the Democrats on the committee - Calderon excluded - because the Republicans had all signed pledges not to raise taxes, and were therefore duty-bound to vote against Calderon's bill.

"We were focusing on Assemblywoman Fiona Ma," Gray admitted. "We wanted to both let her know that her constituents very much care about this issue, and want her opposition to it, but also to provide her with cover in the committee if she needed to oppose it without upsetting the chair too much unnecessarily."

Other focal points on the committee were Assm. Mary Hayashi of Alameda County, Mike Feuer of West Hollywood, Juan Arambula out of Fresno, and Mike Eng of Los Angeles.

"We focused on Ma because her vote was crucial," Gray said. "But Mike Feuer already recognized that the bill was unconstitutional."

Gray will be following AB 2914 closely, but if the course of AB 2914 is anything like last year's almost identical bill, AB 1551, it may never even make it out of Calderon's own committee.
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