How to Give Effective Testimony in Ohio's Legislature: Part 1
April 9, 2019 by DRO Director of Policy and Advancement Lisa Wurm / state budget
The process of giving public testimony in front of state legislators can be intimidating, but it is a great way to make your opinion heard. The state budget process, which is happening now, provides many opportunities to provide testimony for legislative proposals you care about. Learning more about the process can make it feel less scary. This is the first in a two-part series on our blog about how to submit testimony, what to put in your testimony and what to do the day of the hearing.
Why Public Testimony is Important
Remember that legislators DO want to hear from you. Too often lobbyists and organizations are the only people who give testimony. While it is important to hear from experts, your personal experience and your expertise can make a difference in how bills get crafted into laws - or even if the proposal moves forward at all.
What to Know Before You Testify in Committee
Bills in Ohio's legislature can be introduced in the House, the Senate or both chambers at the same time.
Both the chambers offer the public an opportunity to testify on bills going through the legislative process. You might also consider setting up a meeting with your legislators in addition to testifying so you have more time to influence a piece of legislation.
Bills are first assigned to a committee, and they typically go through at least three hearings before they are voted out of committee. During those three hearings, committee chairs will set the agenda based on which side they expect to hear from. It is common for the first hearing to only have the bill's legislative sponsor or co-sponsors testify. The second hearing is then usually for people in favor of the bill (proponents), followed by people who are against the bill (opponents), and finally "interested parties" or those neutral on the legislation. The combination and timing can vary for these hearings, but this is what you can expect.
The Steps of the Process to Testify on a Bill
- Determine what committee is hearing the bill.
- Email or call the office of the Chair of the committee at least 24 hours before the hearing to let them know you want to testify in person or that you are submitting "written only" testimony. An aide to the legislator will respond to you. Both calling and emailing may help as sometimes aides are busy and can't always check voicemails right away.
- You can find contact information most quickly at ohiohouse.gov and ohiosenate.gov websites on the Committees link/tab. You can fill out the automated web form or email them more directly if you can determine their email address.
- The format for emails for the Senate are [lastname]@Ohiosenate.gov For example, Senate President Larry Obhof would be email@example.com
- The format for emails for the House are rep[districtnumber]@ohiohouse.gov for example Speaker of the House Larry Householder is Rep72@ohiohouse.gov
- When you contact the office, you can also let the aide know if you need accommodations due to a disability. If you have time constraints or feel your disability limits your stamina, you can politely request to be heard earlier in the committee hearing.
- An aide should email you back and ask you to submit your testimony and fill out a "witness slip" so they have your name, basic contact information, and know how many people are testifying. Ask the aide for the best email to send the testimony.
- Technically, committee rules require you to email a copy to the chair's office 24 hours in advance, but as a member of the public it is likely you can give testimony regardless. However, it is more effective to follow the set rules.
- You don't have to read your written testimony word for word. You can provide additional details in your written testimony and only present the most compelling parts.
- Keep your testimony short and to the point. Aim for two pages typed or less.
- If your Senator or Representative is on the committee in question, you can also call and let them know that you'll be coming.
Coming in Part 2 next week: Writing and Presenting Testimony and What to Do When You Arrive at the Hearing.
Excerpts of this blog were taken from The Ohio Resistance Guide.