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California lawmakers want to stop runaway film production, except porn

Backers of tax credits to stop runaway production are silent on bill that would push porn shoots out of state

The state Senate Appropriations Committee will soon take up two very different bills that could determine whether California remains the nation’s moviemaking capital.

Assembly Bill 1839 would significantly boost the size of tax credits California could offer movie and television producers to convince them to film in the state. Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Mike Gatto, both from the Los Angeles area, haven’t put a price tag on their proposal yet, but recent reports suggest the bill could increase tax credit funding from $100 million a year now to $400 million.

The goal is to slow the exodus of film and television production to other states and countries that offer generous tax breaks. Left unchecked, runaway production could eventually erode California’s competitive advantage as a base for the film and TV industry, meaning fewer good-paying entertainment jobs. The fear of losing those jobs and the revenue is a major reason why some 60 legislators have signed on as co-authors of the bill.

However, many of those same legislators have voted for another proposed entertainment industry law that critics say will end up pushing production out of state. That’s Assembly Bill 1576, which would require the use of condoms in adult film productions, as well as STD and HIV testing for performers. The adult film industry says its performers and producers will simply move out of state, or out of the country, rather than comply with the condom mandate.

It’s not an empty threat. Since Los Angeles County voters made condoms mandatory in adult film shoots, the number of film permits issued for X-rated productions has plummeted 90%, the Times' Richard Verrier reported. Producers have moved out of the county or shot without permits since the law took effect in 2013. If the industry decides to move its base from California that could have big consequences in L.A., especially in the San Fernando Valley. A decade ago, local economists estimated the porn industry generated 10,000 to 20,000 jobs and had $4 billion in annual sales.

"It is a cause for concern that people who are manning the cameras, lights and other things on those sets are not working anymore .... It's not helpful to have another segment of the industry leave the region,” Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county, told Verrier.

Yet, the studios, trade unions and politicians aggressively lobbying for more tax credits to prevent runaway production have been silent on the potential diminishment of the adult film industry. Why?

The condom bill is seen as workplace protection issue and there's probably a reluctance among some nonporn industry groups to appear as though economic concerns are more important than health concerns. There is a legitimate debate over how to make a risky business more safe. It’s easier for politicians to be pro-condom and avoid being portrayed as “in bed” with adult film producers or against HIV prevention. Last year, after Gatto helped block an earlier incarnation of the statewide condom mandate in the Legislature, the bill’s sponsor, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, sent out mailers calling him “a pornographer’s best friend,” the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

Still, it's worth noting that as legislators push for hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to keep entertainment production in California, they're also considering a statute that may end up creating more runaway production. So far, that hasn't been part of the discussion.

For more opinions, follow me @kerrycavan

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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