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California bill would give tax incentives to film, TV productions that leave states banning abortion

Key Points
  • A California lawmaker introduces a bill to offer tax breaks to film and television productions that relocate from states with restrictive abortion bans, including Georgia and Alabama.
  • Georgia offers generous tax breaks for productions and boasted 455 film and television projects last year, including Marvel Studios' blockbuster "Black Panther."
  • Some production companies have already indicated the abortion bans will make a difference in terms of where they decide to shoot film or television projects.
  • Even so, others have decided to keep projects in Georgia, including Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Netflix movie "Hillbilly Elegy," according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Protesters for women's rights march to the Alabama Capitol to protest a law passed making abortion a felony in nearly all cases with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Montgomery, Ala.
AP Photo |Butch Dill

LOS ANGELES — A California Democratic lawmaker on Monday formally introduced a bill to offer tax breaks to film and television productions that relocate from states with "strict abortion bans."

The proposal comes after GOP Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last week signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country that bans the procedure even in cases of rape and incest. Other states also have moved to pass strict abortion bans, including Georgia.

"There are actors and actresses that are refusing to be part of a production in one of those states," said Democratic Assemblywoman Luz Rivas, who is sponsoring the proposed legislation. "I think it really puts pressure on the industry to reconsider whether they want to do business in those states."

According to Rivas, the current film and television tax credits offered in California are "fully subscribed." She said the proposed expansion of film incentives is an opportunity to keep more jobs in California's signature film industry.

"We're willing to expand [the program] to other states," said Rivas, who represents a district in LA County. "But right now we're highlighting those states with strict abortion bans."

Last year, Alabama achieved a record year for production with nearly 150 projects, including some that received refundable tax credits of up to 35% on qualified expenses. Similarly, Georgia offers generous tax breaks for productions and boasted 455 film and television projects last year, including Marvel Studios' blockbuster "Black Panther."

"A lot of the entertainment industry has relocated to Georgia because that state was very competitive in their own state film tax credit," said Rivas. "We're trying to further incentivize the entertainment industry that currently is filming in states with these strict abortion bans to come and do business in California and share our values."

Rivas said her measure — Assembly Bill 1442 — was formally introduced Monday and would be in addition to existing incentives the state offers to film and television projects in a tax credit program. In 2014, California more than tripled the size of its film incentive program, from $100 million to $330 million annually.

The bill would allow an additional tax credit starting in January 2020 for qualified productions that decide not to film in states that have "pending legislation or existing law that prohibits access to, criminalizes the provision of, or otherwise restricts a woman's access to abortion services after 6 weeks from the beginning of the pregnancy or earlier."

Georgia and Alabama film offices did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.

In March, the California Film Commission announced the state lured 16 relocating TV series to the Golden State, including Showtime's saga "Penny Dreadful," due to help from the existing film and television tax credit program. It said that production would spend an estimated $99 million and was approved conditionally for nearly $25 million in tax credits.

Rivas said details of the new California film incentives, including the amount of money that might be made available, are still being worked out. The legislation, formally known as the California Share Our Values Film Tax Incentive, must clear various committees before it can make it to the floor of the Assembly for a full vote. The process could take well over a month.

According to Rivas, California's film industry generates nearly $50 billion for our state's economy. "California is both a leader in women's rights and the film industry," she said.

Action already underway

Some production companies have already indicated the abortion bans will make a difference in terms of where they decide to shoot film or television projects.

For example, Christine Vachon, the CEO of New York-based Killer Films ( "Vox Luz" and "Carol"), tweeted on May 9 that the production company "will no longer consider Georgia as a viable shooting location until this ridiculous law is overturned."

In addition, former Disney studio chief Nina Jacobson, whose LA-based production firm is behind "Hunger Games" and "Crazy Rich Asians," tweeted she agreed with Vachon. TV producer David Simon, known for the HBO show "The Wire," also indicated via social media he was boycotting Georgia.

Even so, others have decided to keep projects in Georgia, including Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Netflix movie "Hillbilly Elegy," according to The Hollywood Reporter. CNBC reached out for comment to Howard and Grazer's production company, Imagine Entertainment, for comment.

"After much thought and deliberation, we decided to continue with shooting Hillbilly Elegy in Georgia next month," Howard and Grazer said a joint statement first reported by the Reporter. However, the two said they would "boycott the state as a production center" if the abortion law goes into effect in January.

J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, meantime, reportedly plan to donate episodic fees from the HBO's series "Lovecraft Country" to fight the Peach State's abortion law, according to the Reporter, which cited a statement from the two filmmakers. The HBO drama, which is executive produced by Peele and Abrams, is scheduled to soon start filming in Georgia.