Before a bill becomes a law it must make its way through a lengthy legislative process. As part of this process, bills are discussed and voted on by legislative committees in both the House and Senate. Committees offer an opportunity for the general public to provide input on each bill before its members cast their votes.
Public testimony is given at a critical time, often just prior to the committee vote. Your testimony can draw attention to critical issues, impact the opinions of committee members, and ultimately influence the passage or failure of a bill.
The guidelines below are related to testifying before a legislative committee, but can be followed when providing public testimony before any committee or board.
- Identify the issue you wish to address. While there are many things you may want to share with the committee, your testimony should focus on just one issue.
- Identify the bill addressing your issue. LaCAN and other advocacy groups will make their members aware of legislation that may positively or negatively impact individuals with developmental disabilities. Action alerts are sent to notify members of the dates and times for public testimony on this legislation. You can find further infomation on the status of legislation on the Louisiana State Legislature website at www.legis.la.gov. Click here for our guide on navigating this and other important websites.
- Write out your testimony. It is good practice to know what you are going to say ahead of time. If you are testifying as a member of LaCAN, your Leader will submit your story to the DD Council staff. Staff will assist you in emphasizing the most critical elements of your story and offer other advice on how to maximize your impact. Click here for How to Write Your Story.
- Practice. While you should have a written copy of what you want to say, practice it until you feel comfortable enough to speak from your heart and look up from the page, connecting with the legislators.
- Print copies of your testimony for the committee. Meetings may last for several hours. Legislators may leave and re-enter a room if they are scheduled to be in multiple committees. It is a good idea to have a written copy to provide to those who may miss your actual testimony or to serve as future reference for those in attendance. If you are testifying as a member of LaCAN, copies will be made by DD Council staff on your behalf.
- Arrive early. Individuals wishing to speak must complete a witness card. Click here to see a sample witness card and simple instructions for filling it out.
- Find others who plan to testify on your bill. Other LaCAN members can be easily identified by their membership t-shirts. It is good to coordinate with other speakers (and listen to those who speak before you) to ensure you are emphasizing all the important points about an issue without being overly repetitive.
- Wait patiently. Most committees begin by hearing testimony from public officials (e.g., other legislators or agency/department heads) and the order of bills on the committee sometimes changes. Be prepared that you may have to wait a considerable amount of time for your turn to speak.
- Introduce yourself. Always begin by stating your name and place of residence.
- Clearly state your purpose/position. Give one or two sentences indicating your reason for testifying. For example, “I am here today asking for your support of…” or “I am hear today in opposition to…”
- Share how this bill will affect you. Let committee members know how the proposed policy or policy change will influence your daily life. Personal accounts are very influential.
- State how your legislator can help. Be specific.
- Say thank you.
- Watch your time. Testimonies are typically limited to about three minutes. It’s important to be respectful of others who are waiting their turn to speak. Be aware of your time, but relax and don’t rush. If you go over time, the committee chair may ask you to end.
- Expect questions. Answer those you know. Offer to follow up on those you do not know. Never answer a question if you are unsure of the answer. You want to be seen as a reliable source of information.
Click here to watch LaCAN members share their testimony before the House Appropriations Committee. Their testimonies begin at the 17:50 mark.
- Answer any lingering questions. Be sure to contact the committee with the answers to any questions you were unable to provide at the time of your testimony.
- Say thanks. You may want to send a card or letter to committee members reminding them of your testimony and thanking them for their support of your position.
Etiquette & Other Tips
- Be courteous. Do not attack or belittle anyone who disagrees with your position on an issue. You may point out discrepancies and share facts in support for your viewpoint, but avoid getting personal.
- Be quiet. Limit side conversations while others are speaking. Do not applaud or make noise in support or opposition to another’s testimony.
- Click here to see How a Bill Becomes a Law in Louisiana.
- Click here for What to Expect at Legislative Committee or BESE Meetings.
- Click here for Etiquette for Public Forms