AIDS group targets Assemblyman Mike Gatto over condom bill

An advocacy group backing a proposed state law requiring adult film actors to use condoms launched a robocall campaign Thursday targeting a Los Angeles-area state assemblyman who they accuse of stymieing the legislation.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), in a story by the Los Angeles Times, denied that he is holding the bill up.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation said it is blanketing Gatto’s district with 100,000 robocalls, pre-recorded messages featuring former adult film actor Derrick Burts and Playboy bunny Rebekka Armstrong, who are HIV-positive.

The group said the calls urge constituents in Gatto’s district, which includes Atwater Village, Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Los Feliz, Montrose and Silver Lake, to call his office and tell him to “free AB 640 from his hold and let it come to a vote immediately before anyone else is harmed.”

Foundation officials said the matter has taken on added urgency after an adult film actress tested positive for HIV last month, prompting a week-long nationwide moratorium on filming. Free Speech Coalition, the adult film industry trade association, lifted the moratorium last week, saying that all of actress Cameron Bay’s on-screen partners had tested negative.

On Tuesday, a second adult film actor, who is romantically linked to Bay, told the Los Angeles Daily News that he, too, had tested positive for HIV. The actor, who goes by the screen name Rod Daily, told the publication that he had gotten tested at a private facility in Arizona.

The industry coalition said it has not been directly notified of those test results and so far has not issued another moratorium on filming. The coalition said the actor had performed exclusively in gay and transsexual films, where condom use is standard, but the group advised his partners to get tested.

Critics of the porn industry decried the decision to allow filming to continue, and said it adds urgency to the push for a statewide condom mandate. Los Angeles County voters passed a similar mandate last year, which is the subject of an ongoing court battle.

“This is a bill that really needs to get passed,” Burts said at a news conference convened by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “What’s the acceptable number of cases of HIV transmission?... What’s the acceptable number of cases before [Gatto] realizes there’s a huge issue here?”

Gatto, who chairs the Assembly appropriations committee, said he had held back a previous bill with similar language in the spring, based on concerns about the costs of potential litigation over the law’s constitutionality. But he denied that he was blocking the current bill, which is now being held in the state Senate, and accused the AIDS foundation of “scorched earth” political tactics.

“I don’t control the California Senate,” he said. “I’m flattered, but there are two houses of government.”

After the previous bill was held in committee, its sponsor -- Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton) -- used a technical maneuver to recast the condom proposal into AB 640, which originally related to tobacco products.

Hall said he had spoken to Gatto about the bill and that “Mr. Gatto has expressed some concerns about letting the bill out this year,” but that he was confident some version of the proposal would eventually be put to a vote.

Hall said he had a “great working relationship” with Gatto, and that he had no part in planning the robocall campaign.

Senate rules committee staffer Bob Franzoia said that when a bill is held and similar language appears in a different bill, it is considered a violation of procedures. The “custom and practice” is then to hold the new bill until legislative leaders agree to consider it.

“Otherwise the committee process doesn’t really mean much,” he said.

Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said a request to release the bill would have to come from Assembly Speaker John Pérez.


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