Mike Gatto is a clever fellow. But like a lot of smart guys, he’s sometimes too clever for his own good.
A case in point came a week ago when the AIDS Healthcare Foundation denounced the assemblyman as “a pornographer’s best friend” for blocking consideration of a bill that would require the use of condoms in all adult film production in California, a requirement approved by Los Angeles County voters last year.
The group’s president, Michael Weinstein, accused Gatto during a teleconference of “single-handedly” putting the measure on hold and refusing to let it come to a vote even when his stated concerns about its constitutionality were answered by a federal court judge in late August.
“He is serving the interests of the pornographers,” Weinstein said in announcing that 1,000 protest letters were being sent and a robo-call campaign to 100,000 of his constituents was under way.
What had happened was this: Back in May, Gatto, as chair of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee, put a hold on the bill, AB 332.
A month later the bill’s author, Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton) gutted another bill of his, one that dealt with regulating tobacco sales, and put the language of the condom measure in its place. The tobacco bill already had cleared the Assembly but when it was changed to a condom bill, it got stalled in the Senate Rules Committee because of what they call the “jailbreak rule.”
It is a long-standing rule of the legislature, one that is only violated in exceptional circumstances, that a bill held in a committee of one house cannot be taken up in the other house without the express permission of the committee chair, in this case Mike Gatto, or the Speaker, currently John Pérez.
“The protocol and accepted practice is we would not move the bill unless the leadership of the Assembly, meaning the Speaker, asked us to do so,” said Mark Hedlund, communications director for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Yet here’s what Gatto told the L.A. Times: “I don’t control the California Senate. I’m flattered, but there are two houses of government.”
And the Daily News: “I have not made any decisions. We’re really not quite sure what they are talking about. It’s clear they are trying to engage in some public brow-beating. It’s before the Senate. It’s not before me.”
There is no possibility that a guy as smart as Gatto doesn’t know the rules as well as anybody, so at the least his comments are misleading and disingenuous.
With several new cases of HIV infection in the adult film industry in less than a month, there are concerns of a serious outbreak that could get worse.
Opposition to the condom requirement has come from the adult film industry and the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., a leading voice of the business community in the San Fernando Valley, where for decades most of the nation’s pornography has been produced.
VICA President Stuart Waldman called the measure a “bad bill,” saying it contained no funding mechanism and “doesn’t really solve the problem.”
“This is a $6 billion industry just in the Valley,” Waldman said. “Requiring the use of prophylactics will drive this multibillion-dollar industry out of the state.”
Since passage last November requiring the use of condoms in L.A. County, the number of permits for adult filming has dwindled from 500 permits in 2012 to just two this year.
Thursday was the hectic last day of this year’s state legislative session, with intense wheeling and dealing going on, but Gatto agreed to answer my questions in writing.
I submitted emailed questions about why the condom bill was held in his committee and whether the last-minute negotiations on it were likely to lead to it going forward.
The key question was this: “How does the Assemblyman square his comments to the Times and Daily News with the ‘jailbreak rule,’ which is intended to prevent utter chaos and destruction of the committee system?”
In his emailed response, Gatto noted the bill was held “on suspense,” along with hundreds of others, “because of cost concerns,” litigation and enforcement costs in this case amid doubts about “whether such a law could ever be enforced.”
He suggested state inspectors might be required on film sets, saying, “Imagine a government official asking a filmmaker, ‘Excuse me Mr. Spielberg, but what will your upcoming film portray, and would you mind if we posted a monitor on the set?’”
He noted the bills, if passed, would not take effect for more than a year, so they would have no impact on reducing concerns about an HIV epidemic in the adult film industry and addressed the core question this way:
“As for the rest of your questions, I know even you can’t seriously expect me to try to prove a negative. The California Senate has its own rules, and I serve in the Assembly. I can tell you that the framers of our constitution put legislative procedures in place specifically to avoid hasty, emotional decisions, and prevent tactics that undermine the legislative process and committee procedures.”
His response ended: “It’s clear that AHF is trying to bully the legislature into spending taxpayer money, and that they don’t understand the legislative process. There are two houses of government, and I don’t have a vote in the Senate, let alone control it.”
He’s sticking to his guns and denying that there is a protocol of civility between the Assembly and the Senate, insisting the “jailbreak rule” does not have the force of law, so it is irrelevant.
So it’s not Mike Gatto’s fault the condom bill died as the session ended. Just ask him.
RON KAYE can be reached at email@example.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.