Appropriations Chairman Denied AB 332 Over 'First Amendment'

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—In the aftermath of his decision to shelve AB 332, which requires adult performers to use condoms and other barrier protection while filming sexually explicit scenes, the chairman of the state’s Appropriations Committee, Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), told the Los Angeles Times, "Passing a bill, of questionable First Amendment validity, that would certainly subject the state to expensive lawsuits, would simply cost too much for California right now.”

Money was a prevailing issue with many if not all of the hundreds of bills that were shelved today by Gatto. Shortly after the close of session, he tweeted, “We had 365 bills on suspense. 221 will be moving to floor. Proposed spending was >$3.5b. We cut it by over 80% (estimate)." Bills are automatically put in the "suspense file" when the amount they are expected to cost the state reaches a threshold of $150,000.

According to Assembly Appropriations Committee rules, "Suspense bills will be heard at a hearing that normally follows passage of the budget bill. When the bills are placed on the committee’s agenda as 'From Suspense File – For Vote Only,' no testimony will be taken and the authors need not be present."

Assemblyman Isadore Hall III, the bill’s sponsor, was still upset at the Chair, claiming, “It’s a matter of Gatto putting porn profits above worker safety." He tweeted, “Thank you @mikegatto for going against the will of over 52,000 of your constituents who believe in worker safety above porn profits. #ab332.” He also complained about the fact that his bill was projected to cost the state a lot less than other bills that were approved today.

But Hall also vowed to keep fighting for AB 332, which, while moribund for now, is not technically dead. In California, legislation that is introduced in the first year of a two-year session that has not passed both houses of the legislature at the time the first year of the session is closed can be acted upon in the early part of the second year’s session. The current legislature is in the first of a two-year session.

AVN spoke with Assemblyman Hall this afternoon following the vote, during which he reiterated that as a two-year bill it is not technically dead and said that he absolutely intends to reintroduce it during the next session.

“This bill received zero opposition except from the adult producers and some talent,” he told AVN. “It was a bipartisan effort and was under the fiscal threshold. Other bills that were over the fiscal threshold were approved today, but this bill which was under the threshold was not."

Insinuating that Chairman Gatto’s opposition to the bill had little to do with the First Amendment, Hall repeated earlier statements he had made that Gatto scotched the bill out of his "desire to put porn profits over protecting workers,” saying it was a “bad decision” to shelve the bill and a “blow to workplace safety.” Of Gatto, he added, “He obviously needs a little education about safe sex and workplace safety.”

Hall also said he is not currently contemplating any changes to the legislation, and intends to reintroduce the bill as it is.

According to one of Hall’s staff members, two-year bills need to be reconciled and sent to the Senate by the end of January before they are truly technically dead. There are a few months left in the current session, he said, with several opportunities in different Appropriations Committees for the bill to be addressed. After that, if no progress has been made, there will be one month after the legislature reconvenes in early January for Assemblyman Hall to get his bill out of committee and out of the Assembly before he needs to consider introducing new legislation. 

AVN was unable to reach Chairman Gatto for further comment, but did speak with a staff member for the Appropriations Committee who said that it was his understanding that AB 332 is dead. Such was the confused messaging emanating from the state's capital this afternoon.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been pushing mandatory condom use for years, also issued a statement in the aftermath of today’s session in which it took the position that AB 332 still lives, and identified Gatto as the bill's main obstacle in the Assembly.

“We are still in the early rounds of the fight for protection of porn performers. You don't win every round. We won't stop. There are still 3 months in this legislative year, which is more than enough time to successfully provide statewide protections for adult film workers,” said AHF president Michael Weinstein. “Access to clean needles for drug users took more than a decade to enact. Since it is apparent that a powerful politician like Assemblyman Mike Gatto favors pornographers over performers we may in the end need to take this issue directly to California voters. We have no doubt that they would overwhelmingly approve condoms in porn the way that L.A. County voters did.”

The response of the Free Speech Coalition can be read here. In it, FSC CEO Diane Duke comments, “We are grateful that lawmakers have chosen the best interest of California’s taxpayers and the adult industry over AB 332’s misguided legislation. The adult industry creates a tremendous amount of revenue and jobs for California. We have effective, successful standards in place to protect performers. This ridiculous bill was a solution without a problem.”

Image: California state legislators Mike Gatto, l., and Isadore Hall III.