Laying out the union’s targets for upcoming legislative hearings, leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have told the state of California to toughen up regulation of agents and managers.

“We want to see some teeth put back into the enforcement of the Talent Agency Act,” said Lance Simmens, SAG’s national director of governmental relations.

In a 59-14 vote last week, the guild’s national board endorsed a package of three major reforms it will seek in the state’s labor code during State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton’s upcoming hearings on agents and managers:

  • Broadening the definition of who has standing to file complaints about agents and managers with the California labor commissioner. Essentially, SAG is seeking the power to file complaints as an organization.

  • Toughening penalties for violations of the act. Current sanctions include license revocation and return of commission; previous penalties included jail time and fines.

  • Repealing of Section 1700.44(d), or what SAG calls the “safe harbor” provision of the act, which allows managers to work with agents. The current provision reads, “It is not unlawful for a person or corporation which is not licensed pursuant to this chapter to act in conjunction with, and at the request of, a licensed talent agency in the negotiation of an employment contract.”

‘Golden rule’ sought

Simmens said SAG will ask for a “golden rule” provision specifying that managers are not allowed to seek employment for actors under any circumstances. “We would like to see this part of the act clarified,” he added.

Burton was not immediately available for comment on the SAG vote.

Karen Stuart, exec director of the Assn. of Talent Agents, said Simmens had briefed her about the legislative package and added, “This is not the ATA’s agenda.”

Dean Fryer, a spokesman for state labor commissioner Arthur Lujan, said, “If the Legislature promulgates new legislation, we would carry out the new laws.”

A rep for Burton said Tuesday the first hearing will probably won’t be scheduled until after the Legislature recesses in mid-September, meaning that the earliest possible date would not be until October. The original target date had been July, but that was shifted back to August and September.

The rep said the delay stemmed from the need to focus on pressing legislative matters such as the energy crisis and state budget negotiations, along with limited availability of key speakers.

Plans call for holding at least one hearing at state offices in downtown Los Angeles, but the speaker list has not been finalized. Fryer said Lujan is expected to appear.

Review process started

Burton, one of the state’s most powerful politicians, created a select committee in April to review state enforcement of the Talent Agency Act and tapped state Sens. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and Jim Battin (R-Poway) as members of the hearing panel. Kuehl, a former actor, attempted unsuccessfully several years ago to pass a bill tightening regulations on managers.

Under current state law, managers who procure work for actors can be penalized through the invalidation of contracts and the forced return of any commissions.

Burton became involved after several high-profile SAG members expressed concern over the guild’s stalemate with the ATA over SAG’s operating rules for agents. Richard Dreyfuss and Kevin Spacey have been tapped co-chairs of a SAG panel to oversee the legislative hearings.

SAG and ATA have been in a contentious debate over the agents’ desire that the guild ease its rules barring agencies from owning or being owned by production or distribution companies. A 15-month termination period on the rules began last October; negotiations broke down less than three weeks later; the rules will expire within five months.

Agents argue the rules are outmoded and give an unfair advantage to managers. They also complain that SAG is refusing to enforce its own rules banning members from using managers to perform agent functions.

SAG leaders, however, contend that easing the financial-interest rules could create an unacceptable conflict of interest.

SAG leaders have declared previously they will not restart bargaining with the ATA until after Burton’s hearings. In addition, the orgs have yet to work out details on SAG’s invitation to hold an open forum, although the ATA agreed last week to participate with several conditions attached; SAG has not yet replied.