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How to testify at public hearings

Who Can Testify At Public Hearings of the General Assembly?
How Do You Find Out About Hearings?
How Much Notice Will I Get?
How Do I Find Out the Procedures for Testifying at a Hearing?
What Should I Expect at the Hearing?
You Have Been Called On, Now What?
Some Hints on Testifying

Who Can Testify At Public Hearings of the General Assembly?

Anyone can testify at these hearings. The trick is finding out when the hearings are and the procedures for signing up to testify.

Testifying can be frustrating for reasons I will go into later, but hearings serve a variety of very important purposes:

  • Legislators often get information on an issue from the testimony given at hearings.
  • Hearings are a great way to generate press interest in an issue.
  • Hearings are important places to network with others interested in your issue.
  • At hearings, you can learn what others with different views on the subject are saying.

Remember that if no one comes to testify on the issue, legislators can use that as an excuse to kill the legislation (claiming no interest in it) or to pass bad legislation (claiming there was no opposition): "No one testified against/for the bill."

How Do You Find Out About Hearings?

Every day during the legislative session, the legislature publishes a Legislative Bulletin. (The Bulletin is published once a week off-session.) This Bulletin contains the notices of hearings. To get this information:

Check out the Legislative Bulletin to find out about hearings on issues that impact children and youth.

You can join the alert network of an organization that follows the issue at the Capitol.

You can call the legislative committee and ask to be notified when the hearing on your issue is scheduled. Depending on the committee, this can work.

You can call your legislator(s) and ask them to notify you about any hearing on your issue (again, how well this works will depend on the legislator).

How Much Notice Will I Get?

Unfortunately, the legislature's rules do not require a lot of notice. The rules mandate 5 days (days, not business days - sorry) notice for a hearing and 3 days notice of the actual bills that will be heard at that hearing. The committees sometimes give more notice, but this is the standard.

For example, they will put in the Bulletin a notice that the Public Health Committee is having a hearing on Managed Care five days before the hearing, but then three days before the hearing they will list the actual bills to be heard. So three days before the hearing you will know if H.B. 8070 on Medicaid Managed Care is on for the hearing that day. The Notice will have the date, time, room and subject of the hearing. The notice often contains the procedures for that hearing as well.

How Do I Find Out the Procedures for Testifying at a Hearing?

Unfortunately each Committee has its own rules for hearings, and even changes the rules from hearing to hearing. The best way to be sure of the procedures is to call the committee clerk the day before the hearing to confirm the procedures.

The usual procedure is that a "sign up" sheet is put out an hour before the hearing right outside the assigned hearing room. Speakers are taken in a "first come- first served" order. Legislators, representatives from state agencies, and municipal officials are allowed to testify first, and the first hour of the hearing is usually reserved for them. But if there are not enough of these representatives or officials, the "public" portion of the hearing can start before the first hour is over.

Speakers are usually given 3 minutes to speak and are asked to bring enough copies of their testimony for every member of the committee, plus ten extra. (You are going to want to have a few extra copies for yourself and the press, as well) . There is not really any place in the LOB for the public to make copies, so you need to bring the copies with you. Copies of the testimony can be given to the committee staff either in the Committee Office or at the hearing. If you do not have time to type up your testimony or make copies, you should still come and testify. It is a good idea to send written copies of your testimony to the legislators later.

There are many variations on this general procedure. For example, the sign up sheet could go out one-half hour before the hearing, or as soon as there is a long line. The sign up sheet could be placed inside the hearing room or in the atrium, etc. Again, be sure you check with the committee clerk and /or with an organization that is following this issue at the Capitol. Often lines begin to form hours before the sign up sheet goes out. The organization following the issue may be able to sign you up. But the almost universal rule is that one person can only sign up one person, though it does not have to be him/herself.

But then, the one thing that is always true in the legislative process there is that there is no universal rule.

What Should I Expect at the Hearing?

People may be a bit anxious and upset at their first legislative hearing because they don't know what to expect.

Expect that there will be a wait. It is a good idea to listen to the testimony of the people before you, especially that of the state agency representatives. They can give the latest information on the legislation and it is important to know their position on the legislation. It is also important to be able to refute the other side's argument. Also you don't want to just repeat what everyone else has said.

Expect that legislators will come and go often. Legislators are often on other committees and have other meetings or hearings going on at the same time. Legislators have been known to eat during hearings and to talk to each other while someone is testifying. While this may seem disrespectful to you, it is the nature of the process so you need to do some things to be sure your testimony is heard. Here are some suggestions.

You should try to sign up and speak early in the hearing. Legislators are more likely to be in the room and paying attention at the beginning of the hearing.

You should use the time while you are waiting to testify to listen to others' testimony.

This is also a good time to talk about your issue to legislators who are milling around, the press, and other people there to testify about the issue. Be sure you have held onto extra copies of your testimony to give to people you are talking to.

You Have Been Called On, Now What?

The Committee Chairs call the name of the next person on the list to come up and testify. You go to the chair reserved for speakers and state your name and your organization (if you are testifying for an organization).

Remember that hearings are recorded and legislators have closed circuit TVs in their offices so they can hear the testimony in their offices. So it is important to speak clearly and into the mike.

You should start your testimony by addressing it to the Chairs of the Committee by name, and then also to the members of [name] Committee. Then give your testimony. (There are hints on testimony below).

When you finish your testimony, the Committee Chair or legislator presiding over the hearing will ask if there are any questions from the Committee (only Committee members can ask questions). Answer any questions you know the answer to with short, precise responses. If you do not know the answer to a question, state that you don't have that answer but that you will get back to them with it. Then it is important that you send that legislator the answer and also mail the answer to the Committee Chairs and to the Committee Clerk to be distributed to the members.

Be sure to thank the members of the Committee for allowing you to testify.

Some Hints On Testifying

1.  Call the committee clerk ahead of time to learn the place, time and procedure for the hearing. For example, are public officials going to speak first? How much time is allotted for each speaker, etc.?

2.  Keep your testimony short -- most committees limit testimony to three minutes. (Your written testimony can go into greater detail.)

3.  Guidelines for your statement:

  • Identify yourself and the organization you represent (if any);
  • State your position for or against the proposed bill;
  • Identify the bill by name and number;
  • Summarize your recommendation first and then add your explanation;
  • Sum up your position at the end;
  • Thank the committee for the opportunity to speak.

4.  Double-space your written testimony, and type on only one side of the paper for easy reading. Remember that text written all in capital letters is not easier to read, as many people learn by experience.

5.  Rehearse your testimony. Anticipate questions you might be asked and practice answering them.

6.  Arrive early, and sign up indicating that you wish to testify. Usually, media coverage is given to those who speak early at a hearing. Take enough copies of your prepared statement for the entire committee and the press. Be sure the clerk has a copy for the record.

7.  If your testimony is very technical, ask the committee clerk to hand out copies of your written testimony to the committee before you testify.

8.  If there is a microphone, your mouth should be about six inches from it. Move the mike, if necessary, to the right position for you. Do not ever forget how important it is to learn to use the mike correctly. If Committee members cannot hear you, you are ineffective, no matter how carefully your statement was prepared.

9.  Do not repeat points made by speakers ahead of you. If all of the points you wanted to make have been made, tell the committee you concur with the testimony given by the preceding speakers and urge them to take the appropriate action.

10.  Answer only those questions that you can answer correctly. Offer to find the answers to others and get back promptly to committee members with the information.

11.  If several people are speaking from the same organization, divide up the points to be made, with each speaker addressing different areas.

12.  Avoid arguing with members of the committee and with people giving opposing testimony.

13.  Put copies of your testimony in the Capitol mail boxes of committee members who were not at the hearing.

14.  Keep a copy of your statement in your files.

15.  If you have not prepared a statement, but think that you have interesting testimony (or if you discover, after listening to others, that there is something you urgently wish to contribute) ask to sign up to speak. Sometimes these "from-the-heart" statements can be the most convincing of all.

16. If possible, follow up your testimony with a letter to the legislators addressing certain points that were raised at the hearing.(See How to Lobby)

17. Use your testimony in other ways: submit it as an op-ed article or letter to the editor to your local newspaper; send it to other legislators who are not on the committee but will have to vote on the bill; or send it to the editorial board of your paper urging them to write an editorial on the issue.

It may seem difficult, at times, to get through the legislative maze and testify, but it is extremely important and can truly make a difference.

We encourage you to come to the Capitol and testify on children's issues. YOU ARE THEIR VOICE AT THE CAPITOL.

This fact sheet was originally drafted by Betty Gallo of Betty Gallo and Co., who has  has been lobbying the Connecticut General Assembly for more than 20 years.  (Her clients include CT Voices for Children.)