LEGISLATION AND SOCIAL ISSUES

Legislative lawmaking often represents a response to a particular problem, one acute enough to intrude on the well-being of a large number of individuals and their organizations or on the well-being of the government itself or conspicuous enough to attract the attention of at least some legislators. But, legislation can also be generated, among other ways, by apprehension, social unrest, conflict, environmental deterioration, and technological innovation (Lazarus, 2004).

In one example of these dynamics, federal pure food and drug laws resulted from disclosure of the practices of food and drug manufacturers and processors (Friedman and Macaulay,

1977). In more recent examples, internal security laws several decades ago grew out of apprehension over the activities of American communists; manpower retraining and area redevelopment legislation providing for more rigorous control over the testing of drugs was passed in the wake of disclosures of the effects of thalidomide, a drug that caused numerous babies to be born malformed; and legislation to establish a system of communication satellites was passed shortly after the successful experiment with Telstar. The list of legislation passed in response to the emergence of new problems or to the successful dramatization of old ones could be extended infinitely.

But neither legislators’ recognition of a social problem nor their recognition of a group’s particular claims for action is certain to lead to legislation. The probability of some form of legislative response increases when (1) powerful interest groups mobilize their members to seek legislative action; (2) the unorganized public becomes intensely concerned with an issue, as in the controversy over thalidomide, or conversely, is indifferent to the particular measures advocated by an interest group; and (3) there is no pressure to maintain the status quo or opposition to the proposed legislation.

 
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