How to Give Effective Testimony in Ohio's Legislature: Part 2

April 16, 2019 by DRO Director of Policy and Advancement Lisa Wurm / state budget

In Part 1 last week, we talked about why public testimony is important and explained how to submit your own testimony to Ohio's legislature. In Part 2, we'll talk about things to keep in mind when you're writing your testimony and what will happen when you arrive at the statehouse the day of the hearing.

Writing and Presenting Testimony

Traditionally, you would start your testimony by directly addressing the Chair and Ranking Member of the minority party of the committee and then members of the committee. Again, you can find this information on the committee pages on the House and Senate websites.

Chairman Merrin, Ranking Member Boyd and members of the House Health Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on House Bill 1. My name is Jane Smith and I am here today to share with you about how this legislation could impact my life...

As a self-advocate, the most important aspect you bring is your personal story. Make sure you introduce yourself, say why this legislation is important to you, then express that information in a personal story and conclude by thanking them for hearing you. At the end, state that you'd be happy to answer any questions.

Though your written testimony can be longer, make sure the portion of your testimony you read in committee can be read in less than five minutes. That's because sometimes, when there are a lot of witnesses, the Chair will limit the time each person can speak.

If you cannot attend the committee hearing, you can still submit "written only" testimony, which is distributed to committee members, posted online, and becomes part of the committee record. While it's not as impactful as being there in person, it's certainly more effective than a form email and counts toward the balance of those in support or opposed.

When You Arrive at the Hearing

Navigating the Statehouse can be complicated. Give yourself extra time to find parking, get through security and to get lost trying to find the committee room. Make sure you bring your state ID, and be aware that backpacks are not allowed. The State Troopers are usually friendly and can help you locate where you need to go.

When you get to the room, you can check in with the committee Chair's staffer to make sure you're on the witness list, but if you spoke to them on the phone or received an email to confirm they received your written testimony prior to the hearing, you may skip this step. If you have a disability, this is might be a good time to remind them of who you are. The aide sits next to committee chair and is usually a younger person. If you haven't filled out a witness slip yet, you should ask for one.

You often won't know when you'll be called to testify, so be prepared to wait, sometimes for hours, while other bills and witnesses are called.

When they get to your bill and your name is called, walk up to the podium and wait for permission from the chair to start reading your testimony. Testimony is typically delivered while standing, but if you have needs requiring you to sit, let committee staff know that in advance so they can set up a table and chair. Take a deep breath, and try to be relaxed so you don't read too quickly. Members will have a copy of your electronic testimony on an iPad and might be reading along, so don't worry if they're looking down. Also, do not be alarmed if committee members are frequently coming and going out of committee because many members have multiple committees they need to attend.

When you're done, the Chair will ask if members have questions for you. If there are questions, it is customary to respond to the person asking the question through the chair, as he or she controls all questions asked. This is what it might look like:

Representative Jones asks you a question

You answer: "Chairman Merrin, to Representative Jones, the answer is____."

It is not required that you respond in this way, but it can help demonstrate that you know the process. However, it is common even with practiced lobbyists to forget. Legislators generally take it easier on members of the public who testify. It is also important to note is that it is not your place to ask questions of the legislators. If an interaction turns into a debate, consider rephrasing a question you'd like to ask into a statement of reflection on how a situation might make someone feel. Remember to keep calm and stay as polite as possible even when disagreeing.

If you don't understand what they're asking, restate what you think they are asking, or ask the questioner (through the Chair) to rephrase it. If you don't know the answer, that is OK. You're not expected to be an expert on anything other than your own experience.

Once all the questions have been asked, the chair will say you are dismissed. Say "thank you," then go sit down and relax. You have successfully participated in the legislative process!

Excerpts of this blog were taken from The Ohio Resistance Guide.

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