AB 332 Faced Death in Committee, But Passes

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Assembly Bill 332 hit the floor of the California State Assembly's Labor and Employment Committee at around 1:30 p.m. PST, where it remained one vote shy of passing for much of the afternoon.

Two of the seven committee members were absent when the bill was called to vote, while one abstained and another entered no vote. There were three "aye" votes, one short of the four needed to pass AB 332 through to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The Bill remained in "on call" status until final roll call of the Committee was taken.

At 5 p.m., A.B. 332 passed the California State Assembly Labor and Employment Committee when revisited during final roll call, receiving two additional "aye" votes from Assemblymembers Luis Alejo and Chris Holden, thus putting it over the four affimative votes needed to move along.

Representatives from the adult industry speaking out against the Bill's passage far outnumbered those who spoke in support of it. Those present who voiced their opposition included Lydia Lee (aka Julie Meadows), Remmett Studios' Lorenzo Marr, Hot House's Steven Scarborough, performer/director Bobbi Starr, Ariel X, producer Mo Reese, Mr. Pam, Damon Dogg, Nick Moretti, Mark Sterling, Scott Morris, Singer Blake, Jimmy Durano, Jacob Rodriguez, and a sizeable contingent from Kink.com.

Lobbyists speaking in favor of the Bill included its author, Congressman Isadore Hall III; AIDS Healthcare Foundation's Whitney Engeran-Cordova and Mark McGrath; UCLA's Adam Cohen; medical and reproductive health advocate Shannon Smith-Crowley; and former adult performers Derrick Burts, Darren James, Hayden Winters and Jessie Rogers.

The bill’s proponents had two refrains that served as the tent poles of their appeal to the committee: that the current adult industry testing system was a method of detection as opposed to protection, and that it was incumbent upon lawmakers to ensure adult performers received comparable safety guards to workers in any other field.

A phrase invoked by both AHF’s Engeran-Cordova and follow-speaker Burts—the briefly active performer who contracted HIV in 2010 from activity that’s never been linked to industry work—was that the testing protocol in place for adult performers is “as effective at preventing STI infection as a pregnancy test is at preventing pregnancy.”

Burts told the committee, “I am speaking to you as an example of inadequate protection for performers. Being diagnosed with HIV devastated me. Rather than supporting me, the industry turned me into an outcast. The current system is flawed and it’s only a matter of time before this happens again. The bottom line is that if you want to work, you have to play by their dangerous rules.”

Countering Burts' statement today has been his own previous contention that he contracted HIV in Florida—not California—on a gay porn shoot where condoms were used.

Later in the proceedings, much more prolific performers Rogers and Winters shared stories of being infected with herpes and, in Winter’s case, the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Taking the microphone to argue against the bill, Lee made a speech as impassioned and eloquent as any of those who’d preceded her, and countered many of their points most cogently.

Of particular note was her assertion that, “No one in this industry is forced to work in this industry.” She called adult “a high-demand industry” that affords its workers many benefits but also poses some risks that performers accept when they make the decision to enter it.

Lee said the regulations AB 332 would impose are “less safe than current protocols” and “will give performers a false sense of security,” since condoms do not provide 100 percent protection from STI transmission even when they remain intact.

In closing she expressed frustration with the many non-performers speaking on behalf of those who actually do the job, as if they can’t speak for themselves. “Frankly,” she said, “I am tired of being compared to an animal in a mainstream movie.”   

Marr followed Lee with another well-spoken plea to the committee about how AB 332 would affect members of the industry who don’t actually step in front of the camera.

“Should the industry relocate and move outside of California, it will affect thousands of workers like myself,” Marr said. “I wonder how the state can give the boot to an industry that generates an estimated $5 to $6 billion per year when it is financially starving.”

Marr explained that as the single father of a disabled son who relies on services provided by California, he couldn't just pick up and move, thus putting his employment in jeopardy should AB 332 pass. 

Making final statements, Congressman Hall refuted the suggestion that the adult industry would leave California, saying, “Ninety percent [of the industry] is in California. The idea that it will leave is ridiculous. They will stay in California with the idea that they will be protected in their job. We have to make sure that workers are protected no matter what industry they’re in.”

Hall, however, didn't seem to be well informed when he stated that 10 percent of the adult industry is located in New Hampshire. We wonder what the "live free or die" state would say about AB 332.