LOS ANGELES, Calif.--In a decision that could put a dent in the Southland's famed pornographic-film industry, Los Angeles County voters approved a requirement that adult film actors wear condoms.
The "Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act" requires adult film producers to apply for a permit from the county Department of Public Health to shoot sex scenes. Permit fees will finance periodic inspections of film sets to enforce compliance with the requirement that performers use condoms while engaged in sex acts.
Violations will be subject to civil fines and criminal misdemeanor charges.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation led the petition drive that put the measure on the county ballot, saying the act would safeguard public health.
Because condoms are rarely used in the making of pornographic films, thousands of actors contract sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, hepatitis and HIV, according to the measure's backers, who warn that infections acquired by those in the porn industry are then spread to the larger community.
"Pornographers should not be exempt from the basic safety rules that protect everyone else," according to an argument in favor of the measure included on the county's ballot guide and signed by AHF President Michael Weinstein and a pair of doctors. "Public health should not be sacrificed on the false claim that this is a free speech issue; this is a public health and safety issue."
Proponents also pointed out that actors often lack health insurance, so taxpayers may end up covering the costs of medical treatment.
But opponents contended the ordinance would infringe on individual rights and add unnecessary government bureaucracy, comparing it to New York City regulations governing how much soda consumers can buy in a single serving.
"Safe sex practices are a good idea. However, they shouldn't be forced on adult film actors," according to a ballot argument against the measure authored by county Libertarian Party chair Nancy Zardeneta and four other people. "Our individual rights have been fading fast since the Patriot Act. Do-gooders such as New York Mayor Bloomberg seek to create a nanny state where our behavior is increasingly regulated for our own good."
Actors are tested monthly and no one has contracted HIV on a set anywhere in the United States since 2004, according to opponents of the measure. According to county Department of Public Health documents, four people were infected with HIV while working in the adult film industry that year.
Opponents, such as the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, said the measure will drive adult film production out of Los Angeles County, costing thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenues.
Zardeneta's argument contended that producers "tried using condoms during the HIV scare of the 1990s, and people refused to watch the movies."
"So will the producers just stop making these films? No. They will likely move to areas where they have the freedom to make the kinds of films they want to make," according to the ballot argument.
California is one of only two states where adult film production is legal; the other is New Hampshire.
The Los Angeles City Council voted in January to require the use of condoms on the sets of porn shoots.
Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have said they support state legislation governing condom use on adult film sets but believe California's Occupational Safety & Health Administration has regulatory authority on the issue.
"It's being presented to us as, 'Let's stop the spread of AIDS," Supervisor Gloria Molina said in July when the board submitted the initiative for voter approval, as required by law. "We all agree with that."
But she said she was worried about county taxpayers taking on liability for enforcement of a workplace issue.