Testifying Before a Joint Committee



Testifying before a committee in Augusta.

When a piece of legislation comes up before the legislature it is first afforded a public hearing in front of the appropriate joint standing committee.   These committees have co-chairs, one from the house and one from the senate, and a representative sampling of both Representatives and Senators of both (and sometimes all three) parties.   If you are interested in seeing a bill pass or alternatively get defeated one of the first places you would want to make your voice heard is at these public hearings.  Here is a brief synopsis of how you go about doing that.

*Write out your testimony.   Unless you are an awfully good public speaker and know your subject extremely well it is best to have written testimony.   For many reasons.   One of which is that you want to provide (in fact it is semi-required) 20 copies of your written testimony so that there are copies for each of the members of the committee plus some extras for interested parties.  It is nice to begin your testimony by addressing the chairs of the committee by name and to end by thanking the committee for its time.

*Keep it to one page.   I once heard a wise old legislator say “If you can’t convince me in three minutes, you can’t convince me.”  Three minutes is about 600 words.   Make your point.   Keep it succinct.   They will hold you to the three minute time limit especially if there are lots of folks wanting to address this particular bill.

*Tell a story.   If you have ever listened to the State of the Union address you know it is often a series of stories.  The President tells stories about real people, using them to make a personal point about each issue he wants to address.  Your stories should be true and about you or someone you know well.   Make sure the committee knows this is personal to you.   These representatives care about the people they serve and want to hear our voices.  Why else would they volunteer to sit through these, often mind-numbing, meetings?

*If you cite sources such as research articles or government statistics provide copies of those sources as well.   Show that you are not just spouting off the top of your head but that the sources you reference actually do exist.  

*When you testify you will be asked to sign in as either “for”, “against”, or “neither for nor against.”   The testimony will be heard in that order with the primary sponsor of the bill (a Senator or Representative) speaking first and then any other legislator offered time to speak and then the general public.   Sometimes a state employee of the particular department affected will be asked to speak.  Lobbyists included.

*Be prepared, as best you can, for questions.  Often there are none but occasionally one of the members of the committee will want to probe further into the facts of your statement.   They are usually fairly nice about it but try not to be caught off guard by whatever they may ask. That can be very embarrassing.

*If you cannot be there to testify in person you can do one of two things: 1) someone else can take your written testimony to the hearing for you and present it or 2) you can send in your written testimony.   If you do the later it is advisable to send a copy to each member of the committee individually to be sure they see it.

*And lastly don’t forget work sessions.   If you are really interested in a particular bill, and especially if you are really knowledgeable about its subject matter, plan on attending the work session concerning the bill. It is usually scheduled on a separate day.   It is in the work session that these bills are hashed over (and sometimes made into hash) and public attendance at those sessions can occasionally have an impact.  And if the committee knows you have expertise and you are sitting there they may ask you to chime in with your knowledge.

The joint standing committee for Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry chairs are Senator Peter Edgecomb and Representative Craig Hickman.   The clerk of the committee is Cassie Nixon her email address is Cassie.Nixon at legislature.maine.gov  

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