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L.A. County voters to decide on requiring condoms in porn

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation demonstrates in 2011 near the L.A. site of an adult film awards show.

Screen Shot 2012-07-04 at 5.19.43 PMA ballot measure asking Los Angeles County voters whether porn actors should be required to wear condoms during filming has received enough signatures to qualify for the November 2012 election.

The initiative, one of the most explicit ever seen on a ballot, will be decided among voters in a county that is the nation's most populous and also is headquarters of the U.S. porn industry.

The measure is backed by Los Angeles AIDS activists who say porn performers are at constant threat of HIV and sexually transmitted disease infection.

"The lives of these performers are not disposable," AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein told The Times on Wednesday. "This industry is sending out the wrong message about safer sex."

DOCUMENT: READ THE PETITION

Many adult film producers oppose the initiative, saying that actors and actresses should be able to choose whether to use condoms.

Diane Duke of the adult film lobby group Free Speech Coalition could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. She has said previously that the condom measure  was "government overreach into the way we make movies." And porn producers have said they tried using condoms in the late 1990s following an HIV scare, but it became clear that consumers were not interested in spending money on porn with condoms.

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's office late Tuesday "certified that the initiative received the sufficient number of signatures to qualify for the ballot," Efrain Escobedo, manager of government and legislative affairs, confirmed to The Times Wednesday.

The county Board of Supervisors must take the final step of voting to approve the measure for the ballot.

Weinstein said his group collected 371,000 signatures in five months, far exceeding the 232,000 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot.

If approved, the measure will require adult film producers to obtain a health permit from the county Department of Public Health, pay a fee, and require the use of condoms for acts of anal and vaginal sex. County officials will have the authority to suspend or revoke the permit for violations, and could follow up with civil fines or misdemeanor criminal charges, according to the AIDS group's petition.

The measure is modeled on similar health permits for tattoo shops, massage parlors, barbershops and nail salons, the AIDS group said. It would apply to the unincorporated area and 85 of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, including Los Angeles. The three cities exempt from the law would be the cities of Pasadena, Long Beach and Vernon, which have their own public health departments.

Weinstein said he was confident of success at the ballot box. The AIDS group released the results of a March poll of more than 1,000 likely voters, which said that 63% would vote yes.

"The people are ahead of the politicians on this issue," Weinstein said. "There's never been something on the ballot as sexually explicit as this, so it's going to be excellent education for people."

The  effort at the county ballot box comes after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed a city ordinance into law in January directing porn performers to wear condoms while acting in areas requiring a city film permit. The City Council approved the ordinance after the AIDS group gathered enough signatures to ask voters to decide the issue during the June election.

Believing that voters would approve the ordinance, the council approved the new rule to avoid spending $4 million on a special election.

The ordinance became effective in March, but the city is still studying how to enforce it, said AIDS Healthcare Foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea.

The controversy over a condom requirement in porn has flared up on and off for more than a decade as the porn industry, centered in the San Fernando Valley, flourished after a 1988 California Supreme Court decision ruled that adult film producers cannot be prosecuted under anti-prostitution laws.

But the industry has been marred by the announcement of HIV infections in porn performers, such as Darren James in 2004 and Derrick Burts in 2010, and infection scares have suspended porn filming at various times.

AIDS activists have said that condoms are necessary under state and federal workplace safety laws that require employers to protect workers from potentially infectious bodily fluids. But those laws are usually enforced only when someone files a complaint to a government agency, which is done rarely on porn shoots. AIDS activists said California state lawmakers have not voiced support for additional legislation in Sacramento, largely because the issue has an "ick" factor.

AIDS activists have asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to require condom use on porn sets, but have been rebuffed. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the San Fernando Valley, has said the state, not the county, needs to act to protect adult film performers.

Yaroslavsky did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

Porn industry leaders have said they are considering plans to fight back in court or by moving filming out of town. But there may be a legal obstacle to pulling up stakes entirely: New Hampshire is the only other state whose courts have ruled that adult film producers cannot  be prosecuted under anti-prostitution laws.

For his part, Weinstein said he did not worry about the porn industry's threat to move away.

"This is a principled question," Weinstein said. "Do we have slave labor or child labor in California because they do it in some country abroad?"

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: The AIDS Healthcare Foundation demonstrates in 2011 near the L.A. site of an adult film awards show. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

 
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