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Ron Kaye: Mike Gatto and the condom measure

September 16, 2013

Mike Gatto is a clever fellow. But like a lot of smart guys, he's sometimes too clever for his own good.

A case in point came a week ago when the AIDS Healthcare Foundation denounced the assemblyman as "a pornographer's best friend" for blocking consideration of a bill that would require the use of condoms in all adult film production in California, a requirement approved by Los Angeles County voters last year.

The group's president, Michael Weinstein, accused Gatto during a teleconference of "single-handedly" putting the measure on hold and refusing to let it come to a vote even when his stated concerns about its constitutionality were answered by a federal court judge in late August.

"He is serving the interests of the pornographers," Weinstein said in announcing that 1,000 protest letters were being sent and a robo-call campaign to 100,000 of his constituents was under way.

What had happened was this: Back in May, Gatto, as chair of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee, put a hold on the bill, AB 332.

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A month later the bill's author, Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton) gutted another bill of his, one that dealt with regulating tobacco sales, and put the language of the condom measure in its place. The tobacco bill already had cleared the Assembly but when it was changed to a condom bill, it got stalled in the Senate Rules Committee because of what they call the "jailbreak rule."

It is a long-standing rule of the legislature, one that is only violated in exceptional circumstances, that a bill held in a committee of one house cannot be taken up in the other house without the express permission of the committee chair, in this case Mike Gatto, or the Speaker, currently John Pérez.

"The protocol and accepted practice is we would not move the bill unless the leadership of the Assembly, meaning the Speaker, asked us to do so," said Mark Hedlund, communications director for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Yet here's what Gatto told the L.A. Times: "I don't control the California Senate. I'm flattered, but there are two houses of government."

And the Daily News: "I have not made any decisions. We're really not quite sure what they are talking about. It's clear they are trying to engage in some public brow-beating. It's before the Senate. It's not before me."

There is no possibility that a guy as smart as Gatto doesn't know the rules as well as anybody, so at the least his comments are misleading and disingenuous.

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