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Editorial

Safe sex in the porn industry

The city attorney should drop his legal effort to block L.A.'s initiative requiring condom use among adult-film actors. If the Legislature won't act, the ballot process should go forward.

January 02, 2012
  • Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich has gone to court to block a proposed Los Angeles city initiative requiring performers in adult films to use condoms on the set. His motivations make sense — he believes that the ballot measure, even if adopted, would infringe on state regulatory power and would be struck down in court; he wants to save the city from the needless expense of conducting a special election, and perhaps the additional cost of defending a purportedly unenforceable new ordinance. But the signatures are gathered, the exclusivity of state jurisdiction is in question, and the people should be able to vote. Trutanich should back off and let the measure go forward.

At issue is a petition campaign by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is seeking a Los Angeles ordinance that makes condom use a condition of obtaining a city film permit for adult movies. The measure has qualified for the next available ballot, which turns out to be the June 5 primary. Los Angeles would have to buy a place on the county's ballot. The cost could be more than $4 million.

Trutanich's lawyers say the ordinance would be vulnerable in court because the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health already regulates workplace safety — and already has a regulation in place requiring the use of condoms on adult film locations. But Cal/OSHA's lawyer has said the Los Angeles law would not impinge on his agency's jurisdiction, which is limited to employer-employee relationships. Film performers are generally contract workers, not employees.

Performers in adult films should be required to use condoms to protect themselves and others against the spread of HIV and AIDS. Enforceable state regulation would make the most sense; it would be preferable to see such a law adopted by the Legislature. Local rule-making simply encourages businesses — including porn moviemakers — to pull up stakes and move to adjacent cities, taking their permit fees and business taxes with them. That seems likely to be the case here, as locations abound on the periphery of Los Angeles.

But sometimes cities must take the lead, even in workplace safety regulation, because Sacramento may lack the will or interest to protect workers. Los Angeles banned smoking in restaurants and bars to protect not merely the comfort of patrons but the health and safety of staff who otherwise were inhaling carcinogens each day. The move pressed the state to finally catch up.

Whether this is likewise an area in which the city should lead is open to question — but that now is a question that should be answered by the voters. The right to petition and vote is paramount. The city attorney should drop his suit, the City Council should do what it must to secure a spot on the June ballot, and opponents can make their arguments against a local condom requirement for film permits in the accustomed time and place — during the campaign.

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