Report: 2009 Free Speech Lobbying Days

SACRAMENTO - No one is sure how many times members of the Free Speech Coalition have gone up to California's capital to lobby for the adult industry, not even the guy who hasn't missed a session yet - attorney and current FSC Board chair Jeffrey Douglas - but it's happened for at least the past 14 years. This year, however, the activity was undertaken under the direction of a professional lobbyist that just about everyone in the Capitol knows and respects.

Ignacio Hernandez has only been FSC's state lobbyist for a few months, but he's already well-known among legislators and their staffs for his work with the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice which, with over 2,000 members, is the country's largest statewide organization of criminal defense lawyers and allied professionals.

Hernandez, who's also worked in the California Attorney General's office, has limited his lobbying activities to the progressive causes he believes in, including the Consumer Federation of California and the Latino Issues Forum.

One thing FSC's long-time amateur lobbyists noted was the Hernandez managed to reduce the group's lobbying prep time to just two hours the night before "Lobbying Day" on Tuesday, and the time was mostly spent going over in detail the bill FSC is most concerned about this year: Assemblyman Alberto Torrico's AB 1082 , which would create a tax on all products sold by retailers in the state that fit the definition in Penal Code Sec. 313 as "harmful matter."

"What 'harmful matter' is is just an adaptation of the Miller [v. California] obscenity standard with the words 'for minors' added after each prong," explained Douglas. "We call it 'obscenity lite,' and it's even more problematic to try to define than adult obscenity, because how can you tell what's harmful to children when it isn't even claimed that the same material is harmful for adults?"

"Take, for instance, the new remake of the James Bond thriller Casino Royale," he continued. "Sure, it's got the usual simulated violence and sex, but there's a scene in there where the bad guys strip Daniel Craig naked and simulate torturing his genitals, which is only shown from a side view. It's rated PG-13, which means kids can see it without a parent, but under Torrico's bill, theater owners and video store clerks would probably have to collect an additional tax on the film because genital torture is considered harmful to minors."

Hernandez pointed out that Torrico's bill shares text with another tax bill the assemblyman introduced in 2006, AB 1999, which the State Board of Equalization analyzed as complicated, difficult to enforce, expensive to administer, and would require the Board of Equalization itself to "evaluate magazines and videos for their content."

"Perhaps the DOJ [Department of Justice] is the agency best charged with determining what constitutes 'harmful matter'," the Board's analysts concluded.

AB 1999 would have dedicated the taxes collected to a newly-created Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Fund, while AB 1082 would create a Domestic Violence Prevention Fund and a Domestic Abuser Surveillance Fund and dedicate all taxes collected under the bill to those entities, to be used in part to purchase GPS tracking devices which domestic abusers would be required to wear under a companion Torrico bill, AB 1081. A nexus between sexually explicit material and domestic violence is implied in the bill, but no evidence for the existence of such a link is presented anywhere - and several scientific studies have already shown that the link doesn't exist.

Therefore, FSC's band of 24 amateur lobbyists, divided into five groups, had plenty to talk about as they made their rounds of the Capitol building - and thanks to Hernandez's planning, in several instances, the groups were able to talk to the legislators themselves. But no matter whether the FSC members spoke to senators, assemblypersons or their staffs, all were well familiar with Hernandez's work and were anxious to have him join in the discussions - a near impossibility since during any half-hour, five or six different meetings were taking place.

In general, FSC members found Democrats to be receptive to FSC's explanation of the difficulties and contradictions involved in AB 1082, and were particularly surprised to hear how much material would be encompassed by the "harmful matter" tax if the bill were to be enacted. Republicans had similar reactions, and moreover, several had signed Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist's "no new taxes" pledge, and were inclined to oppose the bill on that basis alone. Hernandez had targeted members of the Assembly's Revenue and Tax and Public Safety Committees for FSC visits, since the bill would most likely be sent to both committees for debate before it reached the Assembly floor.

FSC's junior lobbyists were also given a brief tour of the state Senate chambers, and at day's end, all repaired to Chops Steak and Seafood restaurant, located just opposite the Capitol building, for a three-hour "Happy Hour" social, sponsored by Wicked Pictures, with legislators and their staffs, all of whom had been given invitations to the event.