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California safety board rejects condom requirement for porn films

California officials in charge of workplace safety voted down a proposal Thursday that would have put condoms on porn actors, heeding the call of scores of industry officials who said doing so would force them to make films nobody would watch.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health's Standards Board voted the measure down when only three members supported it, Cal/Osha spokeswoman Julia Bernstein said. Four yes votes from the seven-member board were required for passage. The vote was 3-2 in favor, with one member absent and one board position currently open.

The board will now begin considering a new worker-safety measure for the porn industry, Bernstein said.

Board members appeared influenced by the dozens of porn industry representatives who filed to the dais during a public hearing in Oakland, California, to argue forcefully but politely that adopting the condom measure would either destroy their multibillion-industry or force it underground. Doing the latter, they said, could make it more dangerous to performers by eliminating safeguards such as the industry's requirement that actors be tested every 14 days for sexually transmitted diseases.

"I know you guys work really hard and have our best interests at stake, but we need you to work with us to find a solution," said porn actress SiouxsieQ, who also reports on the industry for various publications. "When you criminalize sex work in any way, you make it more dangerous."

Mike Stabile, a spokesman for the industry trade group the Free Speech Coalition, said after the vote that pornographers hope they can work closely in the future in crafting safety requirements that the industry can accept. He didn't say what those might be.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has lobbied Cal/OSHA for years to adopt workplace safety standards specifically for the porn industry that are similar to what it has for other businesses.

Although disappointed by Thursday's vote, foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea said his organization was impressed that porn representatives said they recognize a need for some sort of regulation. He added his group would be interested in working with them to achieve that goal.

Under the 21-page proposal Cal/OSHA rejected, so-called engineering controls "such as condoms" must be used by actors engaging in sex to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV and other diseases. Movie producers would also be required to pay for medical visits, treatments and other health-care costs for their performers.

The problem, several speakers said, is that a large segment of their audience loses interest in a film when they see actors with condoms.

Others said that if the rules were put into effect, Cal/OSHA inspectors could also eventually begin ordering actors to use safety goggles and dental dams, adding no one would want to see a film with that equipment.

Although the new provisions rejected made no mention of goggles or dental dams, they would have required sex workers, like those in the medical industry, ensure that their eyes are protected from being infected by blood-borne pathogens.

Industry officials worried that without goggles that could have meant the end to any explicit oral sex scenes.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has argued for years that the condom requirement was long overdue and that while it might not prevent transmission of all sexually transmitted diseases it would be far more effective than the industry's 14-day STD testing requirement.

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One of those in favor of it, former actor Derrick Burts, has said he became infected with HIV while making porn films despite the testing protocol.

Condoms are already required for films made in Los Angeles County, thanks to an AIDS Healthcare Foundation-sponsored ordinance that voters adopted in 2012.

Meantime, the group has placed a similar measure on the statewide ballot for November.

"This will only energize us in preparing for that November ballot," Kenslea said of Thursday's outcome.

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UPDATES

4:21 p.m.: Updated with information about the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health's Standards Board's vote on condoms in porn.

5:50 p.m.: Updated with new reporting throughout story.

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