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I testified recently at an Appropriations Committee hearing for the Department of Social Services budget and found myself thinking about how inaccessible and intimidating the whole process is for “regular” people (those who aren’t advocates or testifying on behalf of their agencies). I had to be at the Legislative Office Building (LOB) by 9 am to stand in line for a lottery number that would decide when I would testify. I got there a little early to get a good place in line and by the time they starting handing out numbers, there had to be over 60 people in line. I can imagine that some people would have had to wait an hour or longer for their lottery numbers. Around 200 people signed up to testify (so many that they decided to divide everyone into two hearing rooms to go faster). I know that there are some organizations that recruit consumers to testify and people from the organizations will stand in line for the consumers to sign them up. But what about people who have an important story to tell who aren’t connected to an organization? They would have to know where to look on the General Assembly website to even know that a hearing is taking place (or go to the LOB in person to pick up a Bulletin – of course they’d also have to know that that is where the hearings are listed). And what working person can be an hour or more late for work so they can stand in line to sign up to testify?
I can also imagine that the hearing process would be intimidating for a consumer who had never done it before or who was doing it on their own, without guidance from an organization or someone that has some experience in the process. Even the way some hearing rooms are set up – with the committee members sitting at the front of the room, in seats that are higher up than the rest of us – is intimidating.
I went back to the LOB for the start of the hearing at 4 pm. The previous hearing was running late so ours didn’t start until 4:30. How could a working person spend so much time just for the three minute time period they are allowed to tell their story? I waited until 8:45 pm to testify. Approximately 97 people testified in that hearing room. It was a large commitment of time for what is most likely a small impact. The legislators that were still there had been in meetings all day – were they really able to listen to and absorb what each person was saying?
Jen Ramirez