LOS ANGELES—Despite passionate opposition from an adult industry contingent at Tuesday’s public hearing, L.A. County’s Board of Supervisors voted in favor of imposing mandatory permit fees for adult productions. The final vote, taken after roughly 40 minutes of testimony from a variety of interested parties, was 4-0, with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl not present and hence not taking part.
The current proposal would require any producer—including everyone from traditional studios to cam performers and custom clip manufacturers—to pay more than $1,600 for a two-year permit, as well as take sexual health training and use condoms in compliance with Measure B, which passed in 2012.
Those who fail to comply with Measure B can face a fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail for each offense. It was unclear from Tuesday’s hearing how and when these fees would be implemented.
The Department of Public Health had proposed that anyone shooting penetrative sex in L.A. County pay a permit fee of $1671. An industry group led by the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) and Adult Performers Advocacy Committee (APAC) on Tuesday testified that the proposed fees were too expensive, and uses inadequate data to maintain the required revenue neutrality.
They argued it is much higher than similar permits for other industries. The FSC released the following statement after Tuesday's hearing:
"We are deeply troubled by the vote today by the Board of Supervisors to approve a Measure B permit structure drafted by those without any knowledge of the adult industry, and over the objections of the performers it seeks to protect. Make no mistake: this is terrible health policy, rushed through under political pressure.
"Anyone filming adult content in Los Angeles is now required to pay a $1,671 health permit fee, undergo sexual health training, and mandate that performers wear condoms. Anyone who fails to comply with those strictures faces $1,000 fine, and up to six months in jail.
"Despite having five years to formulate a plan and work with stakeholders, the Department of Public Health submitted the proposal to the Board of Supervisors just over a month ago, without consulting performers or alerting the industry to the opportunity to provide public comment. This is not surprising—Dr. Ferrer, the new head of the Department of Public Health, sat during the proceedings with AHF, the controversial organization that put Measure B on the ballot.
"What we saw today from both Dr. Ferrer and AHF was disgraceful. Dr. Ferrer ignored performers when they attempted to make public comment, and performers were heckled and shouted at by members of the AHF contingent. One performer was called a whore. Make no mistake: like Measure B, this vote was done based on bias and ignorance, an attempt by moralists to punish an already stigmatized minority.
"It did not have to be like this.
"The Free Speech Coalition, along with performers and performer advocates, have been requesting a meeting with the Department of Public Health for over six months. They only finally agreed to meet with us last week. We are not opposed to permit fees, nor condoms. We are not currently contesting Measure B. Instead, we have offered multiple proposals which we believe would encourage compliance with the law, and better health outcomes.
"In the five years since the passage of Measure B, prevention science has advanced dramatically. Protocols like PrEP now help us guard against HIV infection; increased and more effective testing systems help prevent HIV/STIs. The industry’s PASS testing system — a system designed to encourage compliance, and further sexual health — now tests performers every two weeks for a full slate of STIs, including HIV RNA, Hepatitis C Antibodies, Hepatitis B Antigen, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomoniasis.
"We asked the Department of Health to work with us and our systems to develop health safeguards and a permitting system that would be holistic, rather than punitive. To work with performers to develop systems to make sure the industry is shooting legally, and to bring production back to Los Angeles County.
"Instead, Los Angeles County has adopted a scheme that criminalizes adult production, and provides incentives for those shooting outside the County or in the shadows. This is a worst-case scenario, not only for the performers whose health and well-being it will endanger, but for Los Angeles County public health policy."
“Despite today’s vote, we will continue to fight for the rights of performers,” said Eric Paul Leue, FSC’s executive director, “This was one battle in an ongoing struggle for science over stigma, and facts over fear. We will continue to fight for solutions that increase, not decrease workplace safety for adult performers.”
On behalf of the Free Speech Coalition, Leue also sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors outlining some of the problems with the Health Department's fee structure. That letter can be read here.
The hearing in Room 381B at 500 West Temple Street in downtown LA lasted about 40 minutes and included testimony from about 15 witnesses, most of whom spoke on behalf of the adult industry.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the sponsor of Measure B, sent a small group of speakers but also hired about 75 people to sit in the audience wearing “Enforce Measure B” T-shirts. They reportedly recruited the stand-ins from a Craigslist ad, offering a $50 gift card as payment.
Most of the industry professionals who spoke identified themselves as small-business owners; several said they were cam girls.
Most prominently, Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Eric Paul Leue addressed the assemblage, noting that in the letter he had sent to the board, he had addressed issues with the permitting fee structure, as well as "the outdated prevention science that Measure B still is based on, as well as the exclusion of the two stakeholders from this process."
Stating that he would avoid responding or launching personal attacks, he stated, "Public health is not a spectacle and our workers' health and safety cannot be allowed to be put in danger for some publicity stunt. The permit fee structure lacks understanding of how the industry works today and how it has evolved over the last five years, partially as an outcome to the passing of Measure B, which has seen a decrease in permits pulled and issued to the industry from 450 per year to two." He offered to work with the supervisors and the Department of Public Health "to propose amendments to this outdated and dangerous law that tries to make a 'one size fits all' solution work."
“One size doesn’t fit all,” Leue said, adding the fees should be set at a point that encourages compliance with them.
APAC President Mia Li implored the board to "listen to input from the true stakeholders, the performers," and stated that Measure B had been passed "without the insight and input of this marginalized community."
"When I was first performing on cam, it was from my own home," she noted. "Because it was a part-time gig before my full-time transition to adult, I made about $200 to $500 a week. It was enough to make ends meet, I was able to practice agency over my body and make iot so I could pay rent and not go hungry. $1,600 would have been an astronomical and devastating burden for me in order to perform from my home, and potentially facing jail time or a fine for non-compliance is just unfathomable."
Wicked Pictures director Brad Armstrong noted, "I'm one of the few handfuls that still get permits in L.A. County. We abide by the wishy-washy health code that isn't up-to-date now. ... I'm a bigger company; $1,600 isn't gonna kill me either way." He added that for the smaller individuals, the fees "do not make any sense whatsoever."
"It's these people who are not the norm, where you hear about a multibillion-dollar industry. It's not that," he stated. "There's so many pepole in this industry trying to make a living during these tough times, trying to eke out whatever money they can in their homes while they're trying to do other things like raise children, go to school. The problem is, not enough information has been distributed to you people as to how the industry really works. ... I ask that you be given more time and more information to make a rational decision."
Wicked Girl Jessica Drake told the supervisors that she's "been on the front lines for over 15 years," and noted that "the industry today does not reflect the outdated stereotypes of long ago. Though we are often stigmatized, we are a legal industry and we employ real people. We pay taxes, and we are here today in person as individuals who will directly affected by the permit structure. We want to be taken into consideration. We request that you hear our voices and our experiences as they relate to our bodily autonomy, our personal health and our safety. We request an open dialogue with the Board of Health and Department of Supervisors, to be a part of this process."
APAC Treasurer Marcelo said the adult industry is "already, as a whole, pretty much in the brown,” and that it didn't make any sense to institute the fees. “If you raise taxes too high, you would just encourage evasion; that's just common sense.” He said that drastically lowering the fees would encourage more compliance: "You would make more money and we would be safer." He warned that if the proposed fees were instituted, the industry would "go further underground and just go to Vegas, where it's going already."
Industry legend Nina Hartley, who is also a nurse, testified in her 30 years in the adult industry, she had seen the industry evolve "from having no health protection at all to the adoption of the most cutting-edge diagnostic tools to keep our population safe, as expressed in the low ratio of illness to number of sex scenes shot."
"We've always been the object of misrepresentation by those who fear what we do, fear America's deep-seated discomfort with sex, sexuality and sexual expression, and most particularly women's sexual expression and bodily agency," she charged. "We've done and are doing an excellent job of mitigating risks and increasing awareness of sexual health issues facing our population becasue we are a legal business." She further warned that fees like the ones under discussion would "only serve to drive performers underground where they will be more at risk."
Cam model Rum Dolor teared up during her testimony, saying she opposed the fees, which she described as a tax, "because it endangers my small business and that of so many L.A. women," noting that it is an "undue burden for cam performers like me." She noted that though camming is often a second or third job for some people, "a $1,600 bill may represent six months of income for some of us. ... It may mean the difference between homelessness for some of us. ... At some points in my career, if I'd have had to pay a $1,600 bill, I don't know how I would have survived it." (Several speakers echoed the financial burden the fees would create.)
“Support small business, reject the fees,” Dolor concluded.
Dolor's thoughts were echoed by Free Speech Director of Policy and Industry Relations Siouxsie Q, who told the Board, "Many L.A. County residents like myself have had to get creative when it comes to paying the rent. For some of us, that meant turning on a webcam or using a cellphone to produce sellable content that could sustain our lives. ... This labor we do in our homes, in our bedrooms, and for most of us is a means of survival. I know from experience as a webcam performer that the proposed permitting structure is financially unsustainable for the vast majority of works, [and] it is out of touch with current prevention science."
Princess Katarina, a self-employed performer and director, noted that, "A lot of us are solo performers working alone by ourselves, and it's just not feasible for people working alone to pay these fees." She also noted that most of the people that will be affected by the regulations are women, that a "huge part" of the money that comes into L.A. County comes from the adult industry, and "if we impose a lot of enforcement on it, what's to stop pepole from moving just one county over and pulling all this money into that county? ... Do you really think that anyone's gonna stick around in this county and pay for these permits?"
Performer Tim Woodman recalled the events of the previous weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, noting that the message to be drawn from that conflict is "not letting prejudice and hatred defeat tolerance and acceptance," and inspired him to feel "the need to addresss this horror regarding the prejudicial and harmful nature of the enforcement of Measure B and how it will impact local small businesses in Los Angeles."
Describing himself as a small business owner and as "a victim of cultural prejudice and hatred," Woodman continued, "I am here to humanize my profession in your eyes, to reinforce that we adult performers are not other or lesser; we are small business owners struggling to continue to provide a valued, legal product that brings happiness to those who enjoy it, and despite the claims of unproven junk science, harms no one." He urged the supervisors to work with the industry, noting, "Ignorance is our common enemy. Let us, the well-informed stakeholders in this issue, help you combat that enemy."
Meanwhile, veteran performer Janice Griffith pointed out the industry had not been consulted about the fees.
“The proposed fee would destroy small workers such as cam girls working from their home, and even though they said that it doesn't count if there's no employer/employee relationship, what is the employer/employee relationship with their cam sites, or what if they contracted?" she asked. "Marginalized people usually gravitate towards sex work because they can't survive in a traditional workplace setting, and this would seriously devastate even more people... Condoms are not the answer, testing is the answer; having options is the answer.”
Seven-year veteran performer Jay Taylor said the fees would “absolutely devastate myself and many of my friends who are in the industry.”
“Although it's a common misconception that we all have tons of money because of our high day rates, there are very, very many performers who work in this industry and very few jobs because of the high costs and illegal downloading of pornography, so a lot of us are just eking out the living that we can, and $1,600 is more than we make in a month,” she said.
Jacquie Blu, a former webcammer, also spoke against the fee structure, noting that since she can't afford to pay anyone, she and her website survive by content trading. She also said she gets tested regularly and only works with those with current tests. "I current exist on a small disability check, which is not enough to survive on," she stated. "If it wasn't for the few dollars I make here or there on the sale of a video or little short webcam job, I would be homeless, and this kind of fee would totally devastate me and prevent me from being able to afford the necessities of life."
Five individuals spoke on behalf of AHF, including Adam Cohen and former adult performers Jacqueline Burbank, Derrick Burts and Penny Flame, aka Jennifer Ketcham.
Burbank was the first Measure B supporter to speak, and she claimed that since she was a former performer, "I can tell you how often the rules are broken. ... The porn industry admits to breaking the law. ... The law is the law and condoms are required," and asked rhetorically, "If they can't follow simple rules of the state, what other things are they foregoing for the sake of their own dollar?"
Cohen once again, as he had before the Cal/OSHA Standards Board, referred to a debunked report on STDs, which he claimed had found that in any given year, 24 percent of adult performers were infected with one sexually transmitted disease or another.
For his part, Burts, who was both an adult actor and an escort, stated that he had been "personally impacted by working in the adult film industry," and implied that it was his work in the industry that caused him to be infected with HIV, herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia "in just six months."
For her part, Ketcham took a more middle-of-the-road approach to the proposed fees.
"One of the greatest challenges the industry and its performers have faced is the stigma that comes with being a sex worker, yet historically, with greater regulation comes greater legitimization," she claimed. "That said, I agree that a blanket fee may not be the most equitable approach to enforcing Measure B, but it's a step in the right direction."
After the public advocates had finished testifying, Supervisor Kathryn Barger asked if there were anyone from the Health Department present, and its director Barbara Ferrer responded in the affirmative. After Ferrer took a place at the witness table, Barger asked whether Measure B required all of the fees and educational classes that had been proposed by the Department. Ferrer answered in the affirmative, saying that, "Measure B is very explicit about our role in [creating] clear guidelines for how we're to do our inspections and it also sets out obligations to respond to complaints," all of which would be paid for by the fees. She also responded to another of Barger's questions, stating that the adult industry fees could not be done on a sliding scale because they were of a different sort than those charged to restaurants and other businesses, because the industry is structured differently.
"In this case, what we're really looking for, there are really four parts to the inspection, and they don't necessarily depend on the size of the facility," she said. She added that she had offered to work with the Free Speech Coalition to implement educational programs, and "to work across the board with all the stakeholders to make sure that workplaces are safe, that our communities have resources, and that our residents have resources to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections."
The Department of Public Health fee would be in addition to the fee for a shooting permit from FilmLA, the agency which issues such permits. After the first two years, a renewal fee for another two years would be set at just over $982. In addition, the County would charge approximately $65 for a Public Health Investigator to come to an adult set and make sure the producers there were following the guidelines enacted several years ago—and if the investigator's visit to the set were after regular working hours, the charge would be about $90.
And while it's unknown what situations would require that a Public Health Investigator Manager be present, that person's set visit during regular working hours would be roughly an additional $84, and if outside of those hours, $117.
After the adult industry portion of the hearing was adjourned, Leue joined the 20 or so industry supporters who had attended the hearing, and after noting that the industry had defeated several previous attempts, such as Proposition 60, to thwart its current effective practices, he stated, "The resource is you. The resource and the power is your voice and your truth. Today, the Board of Supervisors may not have heard us; maybe in the future, they will, and that's what we will continue to fight for. Just because we lose one battle does not mean we didn't win the fight, so don't be discouraged."
Jessica Drake and Nina Hartley also had comments after the hearing, and they were none too pleased with what had transpired.
"I'm livid!" Jessica exclaimed. "We came down to meet with the Board of Supervisors about the permit fee structure, and unfortunately, they went ahead and passed what they were trying to pass. I'm really angry because when I walked into the hearing room, I saw that there were a lot of people wearing 'Enforce Measure B' T-shirts that didn't look like they had a stake in our industry at all. ... When it was over and everyone was walking out, several of them came over to me and said, 'We love you; can we take a photo with you?' Another one came to me and said, 'I'm really sorry; I had no idea what this was about or I never would have been here today. I'm a cam girl, and they told me to come here today' without specifying who 'they' was, but they were here for AHF, and now we're being told that right around the corner from here, the supporters of Measure B that were wearing all the T-shirts and creating the publicity stunt are actually getting paid in gift cards. We haven't ascertained yet where these folks came from or how they were contacted by AHF, but we do know they're being rewarded for their attendance with gift cards. I would wager that if someone asked those people what they were doing here, they would be unable to answer. Just the fact that the opposition to the adult industry can show up and do something like that, so deceitful, it mirrors what they did to get Measure B on the ballot in the first place. ... I get really worked up about this because these are not people with lived experience as sex workers; these are not people with any personal stake in the adult industry. There were no super corporation owners who were in that room today. It was the people, the performers, the human beings, and it's just not fair."
Nina stated that she agree with everything Jessica had said, and noted that she'd heard from another journalist in the room that the AHF supporters had heard about the hearing on Craigslist, and were being paid in gift cards for showing up.
"It's really, really disheartening to see AHF be so sneaky and so underhanded," she said. "All I can think of is a profit motive, because in 2004, [AHF President Michael] Weinstein was on record as saying the business is doing a great job of disease mitigation. ... The scare tactics the other side uses to offend and alarm the gentle people of the Board of Supervisors is super annoying. ... If they [supervisors] could just be around even the non-nude portion of our shows, they could see what the work environment is, or see what it's like to be working out of your home on a cam with your girlfriend, so I've been doing this 33 years, and the opposition's always looked the same: People who are uncomfortable around sex and sexuality, and have a saviour complex because somehow women are victims of male sexuality instead of sexual agents with their own desires and needs, and that it's somehow icky."
Also in attendance at the hearing in support of the adult industry's position were Ian O'Brien, Mo Reese, TarantinoXXX, Max Hardcore and Eric Previn.