How to Testify at a Public Hearing
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.
What looks large from a distance - up close ain't never that big.
-- Bob Dylan
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 scheduled – check 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.