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The NC Legislature: Like Making Sausage?

OPINION by D.G. Martin, Raleigh Chronicle Columnist
June 10, 2007

RALEIGH - "It would be even worse if they really knew what was going on."

My lobbyist friend was reacting to my idea for a guide to the North Carolina legislature. It would help visitors to the legislative building in Raleigh have a better idea about what goes on there.

"Don't you remember the sausage rule? Laws are like sausages. They go down better if you don't know too much about how they are made."

My friend has a point. But I still think people would enjoy their first visit to the General Assembly if they knew how to watch and what to watch for. So I pressed my lobbyist friend to tell me how he would prepare a first-time visitor to get the most from the experience.

He said that watching the legislature is like watching a baseball game, and he gave me these ideas to help follow the game:

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1. Go When the Game Is Being Played.

If you wanted to learn something about baseball, a visit to an empty Yankee Stadium might help a little. But being there to watch a game and all the activities that surround it would give a more realistic introduction.

It is the same with the legislature. You can see the dignified arrangement of desks and the attractive décor any time you visit. But, if you time your visit so that you can watch and listen to the members actually considering proposed legislation, you will get a better feel for what the legislative game is all about.

Since North Carolina still has a "part-time" legislature, it is in session only for a portion of each year--usually in the spring and summer. When it is in session, it usually meets on Monday evenings and a few hours during the day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Other times, it is just an "empty ballpark."

2. Get a Program To Help You Follow the Action.

If you went to see the New York Yankees play, you would probably buy a program to help you follow the action and identify the players.

There is a "program" for the legislature, too. It is called the calendar. Both the House and the Senate print a daily calendar with the proposed agenda for that day's session. The calendar lists the bills that will be "up for consideration" that day. Most first-time visitors pass by the chance to get a calendar, but they are available for the asking in the reception area on the first floor of the legislative building.

It would be easier to understand the debate on various bills if the visitor could get copies of them.  With a little extra effort, they can. A determined visitor can usually get a copy of any pending bill from an office just a few steps from the reception area.

A good baseball program has a list of the players, with some background information. It takes some more wandering around for a visitor to get this information, but it is available. The clerks of each house publish multiple lists of the members of the legislature. From these lists and charts, a visitor can find out the occupations, home addresses, birthdays, and more about each legislator. With the chart that shows where each legislator sits, a visitor, looking down on the debate, can match the face in the seat with the legislator's name.

To get these helpful lists, a visitor must find the clerks' offices, where the helpful staffs will help them get copies of these lists.

The telephone company (AT&T) publishes a helpful pamphlet of photos of the legislators. It is in short supply, but, sometimes, a charming visitor can persuade the staff in the "telephone room" to part with a copy.

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"That's enough for now, I have to run," my lobbyist friend said.

I told him that he had just gotten started with our visitors' guide.

"Hey, you don't want to tell those visitors too much. They might have so much fun that they will want to come back and get a job as a lobbyist. And I don't need any more competition."  

END

D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Check his blog and view prior programs at
www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/

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OPINION By D.G. Martin:
Mr. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m.

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