How To Testify At The Capitol
A key way to influence legislation is to testify on it before a legislative committee. Generally, bills will have a policy committee hearing, and a fiscal committee hearing if they have significant costs or impacts on state revenue. For cannabis, the House policy committee is the Commerce and Gaming Committee and the Senate policy committee is the Labor and Commerce Committee. These committees host public hearings to learn about proposed bills, then hold executive sessions to vote on amendments and bills.
Once you’ve identified a hearing for a bill on which you wish to testify, you can submit testimony online or in person. Online, you can email members of the committee to share your views or information on a bill. Be sure to email committee staff (particularly committee assistants) as well. They include all comments in a bill report after public hearings, but only testimony in public hearings or comments emailed to them directly. Committee members usually will not submit comments they receive to that committee staff.
Like other advocacy, clearly identify yourself, your organization or position, the bill, your reasons for supporting or opposing it, suggested changes or improvements, and your contact information. Be concise, clear, and polite.
For in-person testimony, you’ll go to the John A. Cherberg building for Senate hearings and the John L. O’Brien building for House hearings. Punctuality is crucial as a committee only hears a bill once. You will be expected to sign in electronically to testify, either at kiosks located in hearing rooms or legislative buildings, or a sign-in program from a web-enabled device (only while on the capitol campus and connected to the Legislature’s WSLPublic wifi network). Learn more from the Committee Electronic Sign-In Instructions. When a bill has several people wishing to testify, panels are called up in groups (often three at a time). You can request to be on a panel with other speakers when signing in, committee staff will work to accommodate you.
Committee hearings will often cover many bills or topics, so the committee chair works to ensure that the committee hears relevant information. Interested persons have an opportunity to express their positions, and a hearing does not exceed the scheduled time. Frequently, the chair will limit individual testimony to a few minutes so that everyone may speak.
Most of the tips above for how to meet with your legislators apply here, but also remember to:
- Introduce yourself, your group or organization, and clearly state your position on the bill.
- Have written copies of all talking points or arguments in case you run out of time to speak. Have enough copies for all members of a committee (regardless of whether they’re present at the hearing) plus five more copies for committee staff.
- You may be asked follow-up questions, but be prepared to cover everything within about two minutes. If asked a question you don’t know the answer to, promise to follow up with the committee member(s) who are asking, as well as the chair, once you find an answer.
- If you have a specific change you wish to see in the bill, be sure to explicitly outline it in any written or verbal testimony and ask the committee to fix it via an amendment.
- Encourage anyone you know who is impacted by a bill and willing to attend the hearing to join you. You can support or oppose legislation without testifying in person, as speakers can indicate impacted audience members. Limited displays such as hand raising are fine in these circumstances.
- Very popular hearings can sometimes fill a hearing room. When this happens, legislative staff make an overflow room available with additional seating and a live feed of the hearing. If you sign in to testify and have to wait in an overflow room, be sure to inform committee staff at the start of a hearing so they can more efficiently move through speakers.
- Stay on topic while testifying and refrain from overt demonstrations like clapping, cheering or booing when watching others speak. No matter your feelings on a subject, these outbursts waste time, disrespect the committee through interruptions, and tend to reflect poorly on any group or individuals acting out.
- Thank the chair for the opportunity to speak. If the bill’s sponsor is present you may also thank them for their work on the issue.