LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved new permit fees for adult film productions to cover the cost of inspections required by Measure B, which mandates that performers wear condoms to avoid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
The two-year fee totals $1,671.82 and must be renewed biannually at a cost of $982.13.
Many adult film performers told the board the fee was unaffordable, but Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said it was set to comply with court rulings requiring it to be “cost neutral” and not revenue generating.
“Measure B is very explicit about our role,” Ferrer said.
That county measure — championed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation — was passed in 2012 with 56 percent of the vote.
Opponents — including Vivid Entertainment, LLC, one of the largest production companies in the adult industry — challenged the measure in court, alleging that it curtailed their First Amendment right to creative expression.
In 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District affirmed an earlier district court decision to allow the measure to move forward with some changes, including the “cost neutral” requirement.
“It is time that this Board of Supervisors finally enacts the will of the county voters,” AHF lawyer Arti Bhimani told the board.
Several performers said the fee would close out opportunities for marginalized workers to earn money producing their own porn from home with just a webcam or cell phone.
Calling the fee a tax, performer Rum Dolor said adult film work amounts to “a second or third job for underemployed women” and the permit fee could amount to “six months of income for some of us.”
An AHF spokesman countered that solo performers wouldn’t have to pay the fee under state work safety rules, which he said only applies to those in an employer-employee relationship.
Other advocates for Measure B said enforcement was necessary to slow increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases, a goal Ferrer said united both sides.
Derrick Burts, who once worked in adult films and now speaks on behalf of AHF, said he had felt forced to work without a condom and ultimately contracted HIV.
“What’s the cost of not paying (the fee) when you could catch something like HIV and have to live with that for the rest of life?” Burts asked.
But other performers said Measure B was less focused on public health than making a moral judgment against the industry.
“Though we are often stigmatized, we are a real industry and we employ real people,” said Jessica Drake, a performer and spokeswoman for the Free Speech Coalition, an industry trade group.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger seemed swayed by the arguments of performers who said they were just eking out a living and questioned why the fee wasn’t set up on a sliding scale based on business size, as restaurants are.
“It’s like a one size fits all,” Barger said.
Ferrer said the fee was based on the letter of the law. Inspections as Ferrer described them wouldn’t vary much based on the scale of production.
Inspectors look at whether workers are educated about sexually transmitted diseases, whether condoms are available and whether visible signage and other information about the condom requirement is provided on site, according to Ferrer.
After Ferrer said she believed a review of the fee structure wouldn’t result in a change, Barger backed off of a request to delay the board vote.
The vote was 4-0. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was traveling and absent from the meeting.
Following the vote, AHF president Michael Weinstein issued a statement thanking Ferrer and the board.
“Since voters first said yes to Measure B and the safer sex measures it provides … the industry has worked overtime to try and block the measure,” Weinstein said. “The only thing the industry hasn’t done is comply with the law. With enforcement mechanisms now in place, we anticipate compliance with Measure B increases and that safety on set also increases.”
Since December 2012, 17 adult film production companies have requested health permits and two are permitted under Measure B, according to the Department of Public Health. Each company may produce multiple films under that permit.