How to Testify at a Public Hearing

What looks large from a distance - up close ain't never that big.
-- Bob Dylan

Connecticut’s State Capitol and Legislative Office Building are now partially open due to COVID-19. The legislature is still in recess. Many legislators and staff are still working from home, but they are returning calls and emails. Most committees and taskforces are still holding online meetings. Check the webpage or the Legislative Bulletin for details on attending meetings virtually. We will update this site again as things change.

During the COVID public health emergency, most legislative business has been virtual, including public hearings on bills. Testimony is given via Zoom.

 

To testify online, you will need to register for and download the Zoom software. The CT House Republican Caucus has an excellent guide on how to register for Zoom and to operate the system for public hearings. CT-N, the legislative public video network, has an excellent explanation of how to testify, avoid technical problems, and be sure you are heard. The town of Darien also has a very good guide that includes how to register for the hearing.

 

To find your bill’s public hearing, check the latest Legislative Bulletin. It includes all scheduled public hearings for each committee. The notice will have a link for pre-registration to testify, and the deadline to register. Scroll down to the registration form. You should get information emailed to you about how to log on to Zoom on the hearing date.

 

The morning of the hearing, the Committee will publish a list of the hearing speakers who have registered in order. You can find the list on the Committee page under Public hearings and testimony, then under the hearing date. The document is near the top listed as “Click for Speaker Order.” You can listen in on the Committee’s You Tube channel (scroll down) or CT-N if it’s being broadcasted there, to gauge when your turn is coming up.

 

Some tips for online hearings and meetings --

  • Many of the tips below for testifying in person apply to online hearings.
  • Remember that you are speaking in a public meeting. You may feel more comfortable at home but use language and dress as you would if you were at the Legislative Office Building.
  • Remember that if you are logged in, the entire Committee can hear and see you unless you mute yourself and turn off video.
  • You should listen in well before you testify, to see what kinds of questions legislators are asking.
  • Check your internet connection, computer, lighting, microphone, background, and noise well before your turn to testify. Keep your computer plugged into a power source as the hearing may be long.
  • Keep your microphone muted on Zoom until it’s your turn to speak.
  • Introduce yourself, your organization (if you are representing a group), and whether you support or oppose the bill.
  • They will hold you to the three-minute limit.
  • When you’re finished, wait a few minutes before signing off. Legislators may have questions for you. (This is a very good thing.)
  • When you’re finished, the Chair will thank you. Thank them and sign off.
  • Follow up the next day with any legislator who asked a question or made a comment about your testimony.

 

To watch a public hearing, go to the Legislative Calendar and click on the hearing. It will include links to the Legislative Committee’s You Tube channel (scroll down) and to CT-N if it is being shown there.

 

CT General Assembly’s guide to testifying online

CT legislative calendar of all meetings, public hearings

 

Testifying at traditional public hearings

Legislative public hearings have become less and less user-friendly over the years. But they remain an important opportunity for advocates to raise awareness about their issues. Expect to spend all day when you come to testify. You will wait around a lot. Wear comfortable clothing; bring work or reading if you can.

Public hearings are held early in the session by legislative committees to collect public comment on bills they are considering. If you are tracking a bill and want to testify about it:

  • Learn when the hearing is scheduledcheck here for how to track a bill and find if it’s been scheduled for a public hearing. Go to the General Assembly’s front page and use the Quick Bill Search at the bottom to monitor your bill’s progress.
  • To prepare, visit CT-N and search for a public hearing to see how it works.
  • Hearings are listed in the legislative Bulletin including date, time, hearing room at the Legislative Office Building, and the list of other bills that will be considered at that hearing.
  • Try to meet, call and/or write committee members before the hearing
  • Arrive early to sign up to speak. The Bulletin will tell you where and when sign up starts. Find others who plan to testify on your bill.
  • Each committee runs their hearings differently, but the first hour (or more) of the hearing is usually reserved for public officials – other legislators, agency representatives, and other elected officials. Then the committee chairs begin calling speakers from the public sign up list, usually in the order you signed up. But they will often interrupt the public list to allow public officials to jump the line (one of many things you just have to get over). If you have a disability or a special need, talk to the committee staff.
  • You will generally have only three minutes to speak, but do not rush. A soft bell will ring when your time is up. Finish your sentence and thank the committee.
  • Use your speaking time to summarize your points and refer the committee members to your written testimony for more detail.
  • Speaking from your own experience is most persuasive.
  • Try not to just repeat other speakers’ remarks.
  • You can use your three minutes to address points made by previous speakers.
  • After your three minutes, committee members may have questions for you. Answer briefly and accurately. If you don’t know an answer, say so and tell them that you will get back to them.
  • Be polite and respectful. Do not disparage anyone who testifies against your position. Point out the differences, answer any concerns, but do not get personal.
  • Prepare written copies of your testimony. Your written testimony can be as long as you like. It doesn’t have to fit within the three minute speaking rule. The Bulletin will note where to email it before the hearing so legislators have it. Be aware -- it will also be posted online. Bring extra copies to share with other advocates and with legislators as you see them in the hall.
  • Follow up – Write a thank you letter to the committee chairs and anyone who asked you questions, include your testimony again and any updates or answers to their questions.

Testifying is often not a pleasant experience. You may arrive very early in the morning, only to find that you are far down the list of speakers. You may not speak until late afternoon or later. You may find that only two or three legislators are still at the hearing and the rest of the public has left.

But there are instances where a bill did not pass out of committee because no one showed up to testify in favor of it.