Something unexpected happened Wednesday at the latest of a long list of routine ballot measure hearings at the Capitol: The porn stars showed up and the cameras went dark.
A joint legislative hearing on an initiative to require adult film actors to wear condoms was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. on the California Channel’s live webcast. A slew of actors and actresses from the industry lined up to testify. But at the start of the hearing, the sergeant of arms announced that it would not be broadcast. The reason remains a mystery.
When asked who made the call, lawmakers and their staff swatted responsibility back and forth like a ping-pong ball.
The hearing was set before three committees: Assembly Labor and Employment; Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media and Senate Labor and Industrial Relations.
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A spokeswoman for Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, who chairs the arts committee, said to check with the Assembly Rules Committee. The Rules Committee said the decision was up to the chairs.
After the hearing, Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-Baldwin Park, said it was a “speaker-level decision” that he was not involved in. Hernández heads the labor committee.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s spokesman, Kevin Liao, shifted responsibility to the chairs, saying they “have the discretion to determine whether hearings are televised.”
“Neither Speaker Rendon nor anyone in his office was involved in the decision,” Liao said, in a statement.
Liao said the hearing was mistakenly listed on California Channel’s lineup.
John Hancock, president the California Channel, said the Legislature determines which hearings the channel broadcasts. Nonetheless, it’s unusual for lawmakers to openly block the network from broadcasting a particular meeting.
“I don’t think it’s very often, if at all, to be honest,” Hancock said. “It tells me it’s some special, extraordinary circumstance. They certainly have their reasons and they would make sure they have every legal justification to do so.”
The committee also barred the public from taking photos and video. The news media were allowed to carry on as usual.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the non-profit First Amendment Coalition, agreed that the situation is rare. If lawmakers’ purpose was to protect witnesses in the adult film industry, allowing the media to report and take pictures put the speakers in the public eye regardless, he said.
“That sends up a red flag for anyone who has covered the legislative process,” Scheer said. “That’s the people’s record. The official cameras are often the only ones on. It’s concerning for them to unplug that camera without explaining.”
Dozens of advocates and opponents gathered for the mandatory legislative hearing before the initiative appears on the November ballot.
Advocates of the measure said stricter, more black-and-white regulations in the industry would help prevent sexually transmitted diseases. A former adult film performer who worked for three months testified. She said she felt pressured to finish filming a scene without a condom after her partner was injured and bleeding, therefore exposing her to disease.
She was later diagnosed with HIV.
Opponents on the other side, including representatives from the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee and film producers, contend that a provision in the measure allowing the public to file lawsuits against violators could be used to obtain their personal information, such as home addresses and real names.