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County will inspect porn sets for condom use under new law

ormer adult film industry performers Madelyne Hernandez Shelley Lubben talk to each other as Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President, addresses a small crowd about mandating that pornography actors use condoms in 2010. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Voters told public health officials to begin monitoring the filming of sex scenes in pornographic movies.

On Wednesday, the county was trying to figure out how.

The new law requires porn actors to wear condoms and establishes a permitting system similar in some ways to how Los Angeles County inspects restaurants. Porn producers are required to purchase health permits from the county, which will perform spot inspections on porn sets to make sure condoms are being used. The inspectors can close production if the filmmakers don’t comply with the rules.

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The county has said the law, pushed by AIDS activists concerned about disease outbreaks, forces the establishment of a new bureaucracy complete with inspection schedules, a permitting process, a training program for dealing with bodily fluids and a special vault for evidence seized from movie sets. County employees could even be called upon to screen X-rated titles for condom compliance.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has been critical of the measure, said it would be difficult for the county to enforce the law because many porn shoots occur in private homes and are never registered with authorities. But he added that the county was obligated to enforce the law, which passed with 55.9% of the vote.

“People voted for it and they’re entitled to have it on the books,” Yaroslavsky said. “It’s a challenge we’re going to have to confront.”

The passage of the law created an outcry Wednesday in the adult entertainment industry. Porn producers have long said consumers will not purchase movies in which actors wear condoms and on Wednesday, executives and directors once again threatened to move from long-time production sites in the San Fernando Valley to other California counties, Las Vegas or Hungary, Europe’s center of adult moviemaking.

“I love this business, but I feel this is an attempt to drive us out of California,’’ said veteran director Kevin Moore. In a letter to county supervisors, the head of an industry lobbying group called the law “untenable for adult production” and said the group was preparing a suit to stop it from going into effect on 1st Amendment and other grounds.

The measure leaves the details of inspections to the county.The county has estimated enforcing the law would cost nearly $300,000 in the first year with fees from the production companies covering its costs.

The Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, also known as Measure B, was the brainchild of the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which bills itself as the largest AIDS healthcare organization in the world.

The group’s president, Michael Weinstein, waged a mostly lonely battle for condoms in sex scenes for a decade, ramping up public pressure on officials in 2005 following the HIV infection of three actresses by a porn star.

His efforts were opposed by the industry, which maintained that mandatory actor testing was effective, and he got little traction with elected officials who seemed reluctant to wade into unsavory details of pornographic production.

Pressure increased in 2010 when a porn actor was infected with HIV. County officials said they were in favor of condom use, but didn’t want the law because the state had jurisdiction for workplace safety and that in any case, enforcement would be too difficult. Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county health officer, wrote in a report this summer that it would be challenging to identify “underground, inconspicuous, intentionally noncompliant filmmakers.” County lawyers also said they worried the measure violated the 1st Amendment.

Weinstein charged that the real issue for county supervisors was disgust with the world of pornography. Their rejection led him to take the issue to the ballot box, where, the public did not evince any of the government’s qualms, he said Wednesday.

“There was no ‘ick factor’ among the voters. They were so much far ahead of the politicians. And they made a considered decision,” Weinstein said.

He said the county’s worries about enforcement were silly and reflected officials’ distaste for anything related to adult entertainment.

“If you have a hot dog stand, you apply for a permit and periodically a health inspector comes out and determines whether you’re operating safely, so you don’t give food poisoning to people,” Weinstein said. “We have 134 businesses that require county permits. Why is this so exotic?”

He noted that the county has required sex clubs and bathhouses to obtain government permits since 2006.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who had remained silent on the law, declared his support for it Wednesday.

“It’s a matter of public health when you have the spreading of disease,” Antonovich said.

The porn industry vowed to continue battling the law and made the economic impact on the region a central argument. About 5,000 adult films are shot each year in the county, employing more than 10,000 people according to industry estimates.

Steven Hirsch, founder of the adult film company Vivid Entertainment Group, said the industry would fight the measure “to the very end” and predicted efforts to enforce the law would be an expensive failure.

“The truth of the matter is I’m not sure there will be a lot to enforce if no one is producing in the county of Los Angeles,” he said, adding that supervisors would “spend a lot of time and a lot of money on how to figure out how to put something in place that ultimately won’t work.”

Evidence of how closely the porn community was following the vote could be found on an industry website where images of scantily clad women appeared next to breathless vote tallies from the county registrar-recorder’s office.

“The margins have closed slightly, though, as more returns have been posted to the official government website,” AVN.com reported, adding, “Oh, and President Obama was re-elected.”

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Photo: Former adult film industry performers Madelyne Hernandez and Shelley Lubben talk to each other as Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President, addresses a small crowd about mandating that pornography actors use condoms in 2010. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

 
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