Capitol Journal

Proposition 60 wants to make us all condom cops for porn performers

Proposition 60 on the California ballot would seem to offer a treasure of material for late-night comics. It’s about requiring condoms to be worn in porno flicks.

But there’s nothing funny about spreading syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. So skip the one-liners.

This is an odd initiative for a statewide ballot. It affects relatively few people. And one must question why it’s even being submitted to voters, who are being confronted by a crowded list of 17 complex state propositions.

Although Proposition 60 is about sex, it’s hardly politically sexy — not like taxes, schools, transportation or water, things that impact most voters daily.

There are only perhaps 2,000 porn performers in the state, most of them in Los Angeles County. Still, California leads the nation in adult film production.

The sex stars aren’t called actors — presumably because they don’t act, they perform.

Actually, condoms have been required in porn shoots for years. But the law is very laxly enforced by the short-staffed state Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The agency only responds to complaints. And in the previous two years, it cited just four production companies.

The porn industry prefers to fight off sexually transmitted infections by requiring periodic testing, normally paid for by the performers. But with performers footing the bill, it’s not always certain how frequent the testing occurs.

That’s not good enough, says Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is sponsoring Proposition 60.

“It’s a worker protection issue,” Weinstein says. “The industry considers these performers disposable. They don’t have health insurance, don’t have worker’s comp, [must] pay for their testing. They don’t make a lot of money.

“And we’re sending the wrong message to young people — that the only kind of hot sex is unsafe sex.”

This is what Proposition 60 would do:

— Really require performers to use condoms during the filming of sexual intercourse.

— Force producers to pay for testing, vaccinations and exams.

— Make anyone with a financial interest in a flick, such as a producer or distributor, liable for ignoring the law. This would not include a performer if all he received was a fee. But it would include him if he profited from film sales.

— Allow any Californian to sue if the state didn’t act. The porn industry finds this particularly objectionable.

— Extend the statute of limitations to one year after a film is released. Currently, it’s just six months after the filming.

“Now, [the state] contacts producers and they say, ‘We shot that six months and one day ago,’” says Derrick Burts, 29, a former performer who says he was infected with HIV and herpes while filming.

“Producers will shoot a film and let it sit on the shelf for several months. Prop. 60 closes that loophole.”

What enticed Burts to become a porn star? He and his girlfriend moved to Las Vegas and “got into financial stress from gambling,” he says. They looked online and found he could make $300 in 30 minutes in a sex shoot. “I made a bad decision and got into the industry.”

“Condoms weren’t even talked about,” Burts says. “They weren’t available. I’ve had friends who were told, ‘If you want to wear a condom, we’ll find someone else.’

“Producers really feel condoms hurt their profits, that people do not want to see a condom.”

OK. There are good arguments on the other side, too.

“If this were just about wearing condoms, it would be a different discussion,” says Ela Darling, 30, of Los Angeles, president of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. She has been performing for seven years.

How does she feel about requiring condoms?

“I’d prefer not to,” she acknowledges. “It doesn’t work well with my body system.”

Updates from Sacramento »

But her biggest gripe about Proposition 60 is that it would allow any Californian to sue. Many performers have long-term financial interests in films, including her, she says. That would make them vulnerable. And then their addresses would become publicly known.

“There are people who either love us or hate us and stalk us a lot,” Darling says. “People say they’re going to kill my dog or they threaten to rape me and slit my throat….

“This punishes workers, which is ridiculous for a labor law.”

How did Darling get into the porno business? She earned her graduate degree in library science at the University of Illinois and became a reference librarian.

“I asked myself,” she says, “‘Do I want to do this the rest of my life?’

“I got to L.A. and started performing in porn. People like to imply that we’re stupid. Most of us are educated, very smart. It’s what we want to do.”

Significantly, both the Democratic and Republican parties oppose Proposition 60.

We do require plenty of other safety measures in California: motorcycle helmets, car seat belts, hardhats on construction jobs.

Condoms? It’s something our elected representatives in the Legislature should decide. But they killed a similar bill two years ago.

So state regulators should handle it. They’ve presumably got the expertise. They’re currently trying to develop stronger protections for performers. But it’s slow moving.

I’m not absolutely sure how I’ll vote. But I’m leaning “No.”

This should be an issue for lawmakers and regulators. And I’m not wild about deputizing everyone to be a condom cop.

george.skelton@latimes.com

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter

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