Testify With Confidence

Matt Dunlap cartoon

"Public hearings are held early in the session so that legislative committees can collect public comment on the bills they are considering. These public hearings are an important opportunity for people to speak directly to the committee about issues that are important to them. When students take the time to testify, legislators really pay attention -so these tips should help you testify with confidence."


Hearings are listed on the web at: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/lio/phSched.asp for each L.D. (legislative document) that the committee will be considering that day. The date, time and location will also be printed in daily Maine newspapers, and the schedule will also be posted outside the committee room. It's wise to get there early so you can find your way around.

What should I do in advance of the hearing?

Try to let your Senator or Representative know ahead of time that you intend to testify - that way, he or she can try to meet you there. Also, you can introduce yourself to the committee clerk, especially if you have any questions or special needs. The members of the committee will be glad to meet you too, so introduce yourself to them before the hearing begins if there's time.

Prepare written copies of your testimony. Generally, committees request 20 copies, but if you don't have that many, the clerk can make copies for the committee members after you testify.

What happens when the hearing begins?

Each committee may run its hearings differently, but in every case, once the committee chairs call the public hearing to order, they will ask the sponsor or sponsors of the bill to present it to the committee and the members will have a chance to ask them questions. After that, other public officials and agency representatives can offer their views and then the public is invited to speak.

What do I do exactly?

Approach the podium, sign in on the sheet provided and courteously address the Chairs of the committee and the committee members; you will not be sworn in. Then tell the committee your name and the community where you live. It will probably sound like this:

"Senator Smith, Representative Roberts and members of the committee, I am Dale Jones from Augusta and I am here to support/oppose L.D. --".

Then read your testimony.

What should I do if some of the members are not in their seats?

Once the Chair has recognized you, you can proceed. Committee members may be going in and out of the hearing while you and others speak – but that is because they have other responsibilities at the same time as the hearing.

What should I remember when I speak to the committee?

Effective testimony has several key ingredients:

  • Speak from your own experience. The committee wants to know how the bill will affect you and your school or community.
  • Be accurate. Facts and other evidence are always convincing.
  • Keep your testimony short and to the point and try not to repeat what other speakers have said. The committee's time is important.
  • Stay calm. Don't rush, and don't be afraid to stop and think for a moment if you feel nervous.
  • Be polite and respectful even if someone speaks against your position.
  • Thank the committee for its attention and wait to see if they have questions for you.
  • Answer any questions briefly and accurately to the best of your ability; if you don't know an answer, just say so.

What happens after I testify?

If you have time during a recess or after the hearing, talk personally with committee members. Even if they don't seem to agree with your position, they will appreciate your interest. Sometimes citizens follow up their testimony with a letter to the committee thanking them for their time and attention and answering any additional questions.

You can stay and watch the rest of the proceedings or you can leave the committee room after you testify. The committee will schedule a work session on the bill, and during that time they will debate the issues, offer amendments if necessary, and finally vote on the bill and send it to the House or Senate for action.

Sometimes legislators even refer to testimony they heard in committee when they debate a bill on the floor of the House or the Senate. If that happens, that testimony becomes part of the permanent public record of the legislature.