Whether the biennial state budget is being heard in a finance committee or legislators are debating what Ohio’s state cookie should be, speaking at (or testifying) a public hearing is one of the most effective ways to engage with lawmakers who depend on constituent and advocate input for policy decision making. While the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated an already complex process, all state legislative committees allow and even encourage those who want to provide testimony before them to do so via written testimony only. In this case, the written testimony for a particular bill is distributed to each committee member during the hearing for that bill and the testimony along with contact information is subsequently on the record and made available online for public consumption.
Speaking at (or testifying) a public hearing is one of the most effective ways to engage with lawmakers who depend on constituent and advocate input for policy decision making
Step one: When you hear of a bill you want to remain informed on, i.e., when it is being given a public hearing among committee members, you want to make sure you are added to the committee email notice distribution list to which the bill was assigned. When it comes to the state legislature, this can be done by visiting OhioHouse.Gov and/or OhioSenate.Gov and emailing or calling the chair.
Step two: If you wish to testify, make sure the committee is in fact meeting and that they are accepting testimony for your position that week. For example, sometimes the committee will choose to hear proponent testimony and opponent testimony in different hearings on different days.
Step three: Submit a copy of your testimony to the chair’s office 24 hours in advance of the committee’s physical meeting. E.g., if the committee is set to meet Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. you want to e-mail your testimony, PDF preferred, to the chair’s office by Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., regardless of whether you are testifying in person or written only.
Step four: Submit a copy of a witness form along with your testimony. This is usually found in any correspondence from the chair’s office. This form is key to your testimony being accepted and entered into public and committee record.
Tell them why you or your organization has taken the position you have. However, make it short and sweet as brevity is key
Writing your testimony
While generally there is no length limit on testimony, there are usually quite a few people and/or organizations testifying on either side of a bill. It’s important to keep this in mind by trying to distinguish your testimony from others. This can be done by telling a personal story or explaining why your job or life experience gives you a particular perspective on a bill. While there is no official testimony template, you’re going to want to follow the general outline below:
Chairman/woman __________, Vice Chairman/woman __________, Ranking Member __________, and members of the __________Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide __________ [proponent/opponent/interested party] on ___________ [House Bill/Senate Bill #]. My name is __________ and I am [basic bio about who you are including job title and organization if relevant].
Tell them why you or your organization has taken the position you have. However, make it short and sweet as brevity is key. It is recommended that testimony, when read aloud, is no longer than five to 10 minutes long. If testimony is too long and detail oriented, not only do you risk repeating what someone else has already said, but you run the risk of losing the attention of the committee members and weakening the effectiveness of the opportunity.
I want to thank you again for the opportunity to provide [proponent/opponent/interested party testimony] as I value the chance to weigh in on policy that would greatly impact the\ health and wellbeing of Ohioans. I would welcome the chance to repeat any part of my testimony for clarity, and would be happy to answer any questions that you may have at this time.
Be sure to include your contact information on the testimony itself as the witness slips often are not included when testimony is uploaded online and you want to be sure you are able to be contacted should legislators have questions.