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Adult-film law mulled before HIV outbreak

SACRAMENTO — Some 16 months ago, Los Angeles County health officials were so concerned about a possible HIV epidemic in the Valley’s adult-film industry that they talked about safe-sex laws — but failed to take action in time.

County officials say they were on track to propose legislation by next January to require condoms in adult films and mandatory testing for the virus that causes AIDS, but events overtook them.

Since last month, at least five adult-film performers have tested positive for HIV, halting most production in the San Fernando Valley-based adult-film industry.

“Obviously in retrospect, had we known the future, we would’ve perhaps done things differently,” said Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of the county’s sexually transmitted disease program. “But there hadn’t been an outbreak in this industry since 1998 or so.”

The pace was a result of resistance by the industry and the complexity of the issue, Kerndt said.

For instance, some officials said they couldn’t mandate HIV tests for adult-film employees because of state discrimination law. Others feared that attempts to regulate the industry could drive filming underground or out of state, meaning the productions would continue with even less oversight.

The county’s effort was launched in January 2003, when the Board of Supervisors passed a motion by chairwoman Yvonne Brathwaite Burke to begin looking at the issue after a newspaper report detailing health concerns in the industry.

The motion asked county health officials to report within 30 days on ways to educate workers in the adult-film industry on how to prevent the spread of HIV. It also instructed county officials to look into new legislation to help protect workers and limit the spread of disease.

The group issued a report the next month recommending that the Board of Supervisors ask Cal-OSHA, the state’s occupational health and safety agency, to see whether existing laws could protect adult-film workers by requiring regular testing for STDs, requiring the use of condoms, maintaining records of test results and requiring the disclosure of STD status among performers.

County health officials had discussions with Cal-OSHA but didn’t bring together county, state and local officials until August 2003. The full group did not meet again, but there were follow-up conference calls and smaller meetings.

Until recently, Cal-OSHA had never received or investigated a health-related complaint for the adult-film industry, according to agency spokeswoman Susan Gard.

The department, she said, concentrates on industries like agriculture and construction, in which workers have accidents or are killed on a regular basis, and not on disease transmission.

The state Department of Health Services was also a participant in the meeting, though department spokesman Robert Miller said the agency’s role was more as an “observer.”

While the department does have programs aimed at HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention in the general population, it has not had anything aimed specifically toward the adult-film industry, he said. The department is paying attention to the recent outbreak, but is not looking to see whether additional regulations are needed.

“It just hasn’t come up,” he said. “This thing started a couple weeks ago. They’re still trying to figure out the scope of the problem.”

Representatives of the adult-film industry were not invited to participate in the meeting, although they had some telephone contact with county health officials.

“(Because of) the fact that we are at the forefront of this population and containing any disease that comes out of it, I think we need to be much more involved,” said Sharon Mitchell, director of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks.

The industry has always believed it can regulate itself, and still maintains that belief.

Mitchell said AIM’s self-regulating program will need to be modified based on lessons learned from the current outbreak, which began when actor Darren James filmed some scenes in Brazil, where the screening procedures are less stringent, and then returned to California and filmed scenes with numerous other women before his test results showed he was HIV-positive.

Mitchell said AIM is looking at stricter requirements on people who are new to the industry or have recently traveled, including two negative tests in 30 days before filming a scene.



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