Friday, February 5, 2010

County Health Throws in The Towel

Now here's a moment to be savored. After several years of ceaseless bloviation about the need to impose condom use in the creation of all sexually explicit media, L.A. County Health Department head Dr. John Fielding has finally called it quits on behalf of the agency he administers. Fielding, whose department has been sued by the grandstanding fund-raisers at Aids Healthcare Foundation for not enforcing an all-condom policy on productions throughout the county, basically told the gang at AHF to take a hike last Tuesday, according to The L.A. Times ( AHF's suit had already been dismissed categorically by the L.A. Superior Court back in December, and Fielding at last admitted what he clearly knew all along about the kind of futile campaign his department was being pressured to undertake:

""It is very, very difficult to implement. There are roughly 200 production companies with about...1,200 actors,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's public health chief. “All you need is a room and a camera and a bed, basically, to do this kind of shoot, and we have no ability to police this,” according to The LAT's account.

Fielding goes on to point out the obvious: "... that it would be difficult for public health officials to prove if the movies were produced in L.A. County or elsewhere, as producers often do not apply for filming licenses. In a memo to supervisors on Sept. 17, health officials warned such an effort would be costly, as the public health department would need to identify filming sites and monitor compliance, which would require significant staff time."

For a county that's buried in debt, cutting back on basic services and has had to close its largest public hospital under federal court order for providing sub-standard care resulting in needless patient deaths, clearly such an attempt would be a whole case of AHF-funder Lifestyle Condoms stretched end-to-end too far.

Not surprisingly Fielding, who has long advocated action by the state legislature to enforce his vision of an all-condoms-all-the-time porn industry, continues to try and kick the responsibility upstairs. Like County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose turf includes Porn Valley, Fielding favors a statewide statute mandating universal condom use in porn, though he's been repeatedly made aware of the very real risks such a law would create if enacted. Fortunately, that doesn't appear too likely. Yaroslavsky concedes that, thus far, "not a single California lawmaker has been willing to sponsor such legislation."

Upstate, where cooler heads seem to be prevailing for the moment, there is little enthusiasm for spending millions of dollars in borrowed money to send state inspectors into the field in search of bare-back video production. The Free Speech Coalition has been dutifully making the industry's case in Sacramento on behalf of our highly effective existing system of voluntary safeguards built around regular STD testing, and warning of the possible jeopardy to which conflicting legislation might expose that system. So far, the message seems to be prevailing.

However, it's a bit early to break out the champagne and call this whole ridiculous campaign history. Cal-OSHA, even after a stinging rebuff from Alameda Superior Court Judge Judge Winifred Smith for seeking to compel The Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM) to surrender confidential client records in order to facilitate its witch-hunt against porn producers, continues to insist it has jurisdiction to apply standards created for medical facilities to porn shoots. Cal-OSHA officials claim they can still stage surprise inspections on sets, issue citations and levy large fines despite the inconvenient lack of any enabling legislation extending their authority to this particular industry, as state law requires.

As a result, no producer really knows whether or not it's safe to shoot anywhere in California, and until the higher authorities of the state government rein in this wayward bureaucracy on a mission from god, the threat of heavy-handed intervention by unauthorized state employees acting out their personal agendas will remain.

But given the way Fielding, the supervisors and the legislature, all burdened with much more pressing problems, are seeking to put as much open water as possible between themselves and this issue, it would seem that yet another attempt to crush the porn business under the weight of ideologically motivated regulation appears doomed to failure.

These incomplete victories have not come without cost, literally. AIM is barely able to operate its clinic as it struggles to pay its legal fees resulting from the Cal-OSHA litigation and some large companies have already begun to look at shooting in other states to avoid those random drop-ins from the nice folks at Cal-OSHA, taking money and jobs away from the local economy and conducting their business out of the sight of the porn community at large. How this will make anyone safer or improve the lives of porn performers in any way has yet to be explained.

We can only hope that those above the agency heads creating this still-ominous atmosphere will soon send a clear message to their subordinates to operate within their legal authority or start brushing up their resumes. Clearly, Dr. Fielding has gotten that message at last.

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