How to Testify at a Texas Legislative Committee Hearing

In Texas, mega-wealthy industrial lobbies have bought and paid for most of the GOP candidates at every level of our state government. This is a fact. These lobbies install hard-right extremists who vote the way they are instructed to by the lobby think tank, the shadowy industrialists get their rich friends rewarded, and their political arm–the Texas GOP, which exists only to do the bidding of the rich and powerful–stays in power.

But things are changing. And citizen activists terrify these people. Participation is fundamental in taking Texas back. But we can’t win if we don’t show up.

A huge component of showing up entails physically going to the capitol and testifying at a committee hearing. We’ll be doing this a lot.

However, most people have never provided testimony before a Senate or House Committee. Many of us are conditioned to equate things that are new with things that are uncomfortable or scary. Not to worry!

Donna Howard put together a wonderful infographic with steps on how to testify at a Texas Legislative Committee Hearing, and we thought we’d post on this subject and help demystify what this process is like and what you can expect. You can do it! In fact, you must.

For quick reference, you can quickly find upcoming Committee Hearings page at the Texas Legislature Online, under Committees. The most controversial bills are typically sent to the State Affairs Committee in both the House and the Senate.

Before the Hearing

  1. Know when to testify – Track bills, issue areas & committee hearings by signing up for alerts at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us. We keep track of harmful legislation here, and we’ve got a post that walks you through how to use the Texas Legislature Online here if you’d like to make a list of your own bills to track. You should also follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates about what’s going on with certain bills, and when we’ll be at the capitol to testify, where committee hearings are taking place, etc.
  2. Make sure you can testify – Many committee hearings allow public testimony, but some only allow invited witnesses. Check the hearing notice!
  3. Practice your speech – Testimony is generally limited to 3 minutes. Prepare 2-3 minutes of comments, and run through it a few times.

Getting to the Capitol

  1. Parking near the building – The Capitol’s Visitor Parking Garage is located at 12th & Trinity, but it’s just as easy to park on the street around the capitol. We use an app called ParkX whenever we have to park downtown in Austin–you can just link a debit card to the app and “feed the meter” from your cel phone, without having to go back to your car. There’s metered street parking around the capitol, so you might consider bring quarters. We haven’t had any problem finding a spot on the street lately (even during SXSW), but it’s a good idea to give yourself a good 15 minute cushion before registration begins to find parking.
  2. Getting to the capitol – There are entrances on the north, south, east, and west sides of the capitol. The security checkpoints are there for everyone’s safety; don’t let the state troopers carrying machine guns intimidate you! The troopers are really quite friendly. I mean, it’s Texas y’all.
  3. Find the kiosks – You’ll find electronic kiosks–essentially iPads in a black plastic frame–near each of the committee hearing rooms. This is where you will register to provide testimony. The interface is simple–it’s a web-based form that you enter your name, address, and then you’ll denote whether you’re testifying “On” (neutral), “For”, or “Against” the bill.

    You can even log on to the public Wi-fi and register your position on the bill on your own device, by navigating to http://hwrs.house.state.tx.us/ and just following the instructions on the screen.

  4. You don’t have to give spoken testimony – Remember that the kiosks will give you the option of registering support or opposition without providing testimony. So even if you aren’t planning on staying through the entire Committee hearing, it’s always good to get down to the capitol and register your support for or opposition to a bill.
  5. Get comfortable – Arrive early, but expect to stay late. The sessions are unpredictable. Some hearings are short, but some can be very long.

When It’s Your Turn

  1. How it works – Generally, your name will be called and you’ll be invited to the podium. State your name, who you’re representing, and whether you are for, against, or “on” (neutral) the bill. For example, “My name is Mary Ross, I’m representing myself, and I’m here to testify against the bill.” Simple, we know, but many folks forget this part only to have the committee chair interrupt them.
  2. Be nice – Your testimony can be passionate, but always be respectful.
  3. Be concise – You’ll probably only have 2-3 minutes, so make it count!
  4. Be personal – Tell the Committee how this legislation will impact you, your family, and your friends. Tell your story.
  5. Bring copies – If you’re providing written copies of your testimony (for example, you may have data and supplemental material that backs up the points you’re making in your testimony), the Committee will ask for 20 printed copies. At the beginning of your testimony you can just say “I’ve provided written copies for all the members of the Committee to supplement some of the points I’ll make in my testimony today and I’ll be glad to distribute those” and a page will distribute.
  6. Follow up – Email the committee members to provide additional information. You can find them here: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Committees/Membership.aspx

You did it!

Thanks to Donna Howard and her team for making this excellent infographic! Here’s the original infographic. Let us know how your testimony goes in the comments below.