A state lawmaker has proposed legislation that would require adult film performers to be screened for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases before they could be hired for a pornographic movie and would bar producers from hiring anyone who tested positive for disease.
Assembly Bill 2798 would require testing within two weeks before production -- a shorter time frame than the current industry practice of monthly screenings. It would also allow any performer who became infected because of a production company's failure to comply to sue for damages.
"There has been all these outbreaks ... people spreading diseases," said the bill's author, Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City). "These infections can reach any of us. What we're trying to do is protect the public."
Leslie said he was prompted by a Times story last year on HIV and the prevalence of other sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, in the adult film industry.
The bill, to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Health Committee, was criticized by public health advocates as well as people in the adult film industry.
Some say it is well-intentioned but weak for not requiring condom use. Others say certain provisions could undermine the industry's existing efforts to protect actors.
Only safe sex -- using condoms during all filmed performances -- would ensure that diseases were not transmitted from one actor to another, said Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. The department has asked state officials to investigate the working conditions of three actors recently infected with HIV.
Testing can also provide a false sense of security, Fielding said. HIV can be detected within as few as 14 days after infection; but it's possible to contract the disease, test negative within that period and infect others before later testing reveals a person's positive status.
Other sexually transmitted diseases with even shorter incubation periods can be passed to others within days of a negative test. Some, such as the human papilloma virus, which causes genital warts and cervical cancer, can be difficult to detect even with testing.
The current industry standard within the Los Angeles pornography world is to rely on an expensive but advanced form of testing that detects HIV quickly after infection, advocates said. The proposed bill, on the other hand, would permit cheaper tests that take longer to detect infections.
The bill is "taking a step back, medically. It's just not well thought out," said Sharon Mitchell, executive director of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, which conducts STD testing for actors.
Kat Sunlove, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a lobbying group for the pornography industry, said the provision to let actors sue production companies might encourage frivolous lawsuits. If an actor is infected, "How are you going to decide which set that came from?" she asked.
Producers of gay porn also decried the bill, which would ban work by STD-infected performers until they were cured.
The estimated 30% to 50% of gay adult actors who are HIV-positive would be barred from working, even though most gay production companies already require condom use.
Assemblyman Leslie said that he intended the bill to be a "first step" and that he was willing to consider modifications.
Some actors said they were heartened that government was paying attention to their lot.
Said porn actor Don Hollywood, "As much as I'm not in favor of government control over people's lives ... I don't know if the industry is responsible enough on its own."