A Record Turnout for Monday's Porn Tax Hearing in Sacramento

Tom Hymes
SACRAMENTO — In a larger than expected turnout Monday, especially for state legislators, 150 people from the adult entertainment industry showed up at the state Capital to voice their opposition to AB 2914, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-City of Industry) that would impose a 25% excise tax on all adult products in the state.

The occasion was a public hearing of the Assembly Revenue and Tax Committee, chaired by Calderon, during which testimony was presented by both supporters and opponents of the bill.

According to a Free Speech Coalition (FSC) press release issued yesterday, "Testifying in favor of the bill were representatives from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and county Health Departments, a 'sex addiction' expert and two ex-performers from the Pink Cross Foundation."

FSC and ACE of California, the trade association of California’s adult nightclubs, organized those testifying against the bill, a group that included researcher Bryant Paul, AIM Executive Director Sharon Mitchell, Industry First Amendment lawyer Gill Sperlein, Performer Kayden Kross, retired police officers and others.

According to Diane Duke, Executive Director of FSC, legislators at the hearing were surprised to see so many people from the industry in attendance, and a few were not altogether pleased.

"I almost felt like they were irritated that we were there," she said. "I wanted to stand up and say, 'Look, you work for us.'"

Duke also expressed indignation at the nature of the testimony in support of the bill.

"The people Calderon got to testify were very inflammatory," she said, "and were telling lies about the industry; that people were committing suicide and that drugs were rampant on the set. Of course, we had people from the set there to testify that [those things] are not happening."

Adult performer Kross, for instance, had a decidedly different view.

"Everything they said is untrue from my experience," she testified, adding that neither drug use nor prostitution are a big part of adult entertainment today. "We make more money shooting on camera than we make as prostitutes. There's no reason to be a prostitute as an adult performer."

Sperlein, counsel for Titan Media, added during his testimony that performers would be kicked off a Titan set if they came to work stoned.

As large as the adult entertainment presence turned out to be Monday, it was not the only industry testifying against AB 2914.

"We were not alone in this," Duke told XBIZ. "The California Chamber of Commerce was there testifying against this, as were the cable companies. It was just great."

Duke recounted one moment during the hearing that she said was truly memorable for those in attendance, and in a larger sense illustrates the challenging nature of the legislative process.

"After Calderon spent all of this time putting all of these people on [to testify] about how horrible our industry is, he actually said, 'I don't know anything about the adult entertainment industry,' at which point you could hear a collective gasp throughout the room. And here he is, proposing a 25% tax on us?"

As dramatic as that moment was, the outcome of the hearing was decidedly anticlimactic, as a final vote on the bill was not taken, but the action that was taken on AB 2914 was in some respects far worse for Calderon than a straight up or down vote.

"The bill went to the committee 'Suspense File,'" the FSC press release stated, "where it remains, because Mr. Calderon does not yet seem to have enough support to pass the bill out of his own committee."