Alibi V.16 No.13 • March 29-April 4, 2007 

Thin Line

The Guts You Don't See—It’s a commonly used simile to say that making laws is like [url[/url]making sausage[xurl] in that you don't want to see the process involved in creating them before they’re presentable to the public. Or maybe it's that both greasy products are full of lard and pig heads. Actually, that's not always true about sausage.

Either way, when it comes to lawmaking, and specifically the recently terminated Legislative Session, there's a process to contend with. Measures start as ideas. Some gather momentum. Some don't. Some get attention from the press. Others don't.

Local media is known for drenching ink on the hot-button issues. Red-light cameras, minimum wage, cockfighting—we saw these words in headlines and spewing out of the mouths of TV anchors ad infinitum. But lost in the seemingly infinite loops are a few issues we may have missed—issues worthy of a call to our representatives to ask them to support or stamp down. Like these:

• A new section of the Family Violence Protection Act would have allowed victims of domestic violence to use substitute addresses for mail to ensure safety.

• Rep. Mimi Stewart proposed an opiate replacement therapy program for inmates. Stewart was asking for $250,000 to start a pilot program for 50 prisoners with a history of heroin addiction in the women's prison in Grants.

• A law that requires the Higher Education Department to include information about faculty diversity, compensation and benefits in its annual accountability report to the governor.

• Sen. Joe Carraro was looking into a pilot project to evaluate the efficiency of tire spikes on exit ramps to stop wrong-way highway drivers.

I sure wish some of these measures made their way into the general consciousness while we still had time to rally against or push behind them. But I'm starting to think my understanding of the /[/urlsausage-making procedure is too optimistic. See, I thought the public elected people, and based on our concerns, they put together potential laws to take to their cronies in the Legislature. Then as the meat and guts got ground up by our various committees, voters got to throw in their two-cents, at the very least, about the spicing, the casing, the details. Based again on feedback, representatives and senators then figured out which bills to pass.

Instead, the session's a free-for-all, a sausage soiree, meat and parts flying every which way. The media picks through the slippery mess seeking something to grab onto, to drench in ink and public opinion. But they always come up with the big chunks, the obvious bills. Thoroughly shredded measures get thrown to the side with all the other inedible leftovers.

Maybe it's naïve of me to think the process should work in a way that requires informed citizens, who know about more than just the big-name issues. Local media could argue they're reporting on the issues people care about. But most of us know that's a tricky loop, too. The media reports on what the public cares about; the public cares about it because it's in the media. In the end, who makes the news?