Public hearings are held for most legislative issues and provide a number of opportunities for activists to affect public policy. Encouraging others who share your views on the issue in question is a great way to demonstrate broad support for your position. Since a number of media outlets often cover public hearings, you can display this support in newspapers and on television. Statements and other materials that are submitted during a public hearing become part of the public record which must be considered by the committee. Hearings also allow you to hear and study the arguments of those who disagree with you on a topic.
Hearings can be very intense and intimidating at times, especially for high profile issues. But they are an important part of the legislative process and should not be ignored. Legislators use public hearings to gain information and insight on the issues at hand, and look to concerned citizens to provide them with the information they need to make difficult decisions. Here are some tips to help you in testifying at public hearings.
Use your time efficiently: There is often a time limit for speakers at public hearings (typically three minutes for high profile issues). Be concise and direct. Speak with others who share your position and divide the topics that need to be addressed among several people. This way, all of your concerns will be covered.
Submit supporting materials: You are allowed to submit written materials (which can include additional comments, charts, maps or information prepared by you or other experts) to help make your case. Make sure to bring 20 copies for committee members. You can also make these materials available to members of the media who may be covering the hearing.
Take notes: Try to take notes on the testimony submitted by others to track points that may need reiteration, further clarification, or rebuttal. You may address these issues during your oral testimony or through additional written comments submitted after the hearing.
Be polite: Public hearings can become very emotionally charged. You may hear some things that you strongly oppose, or things that you absolutely agree with. But it is important that you keep your emotions under control and your statement focused on points that will advance your position. Expressing your frustration about someone else’s testimony cuts into the time you have to address your important arguments and make your case.
For additional information on public hearings, please visit, http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/citizensguide.pdf
*This information has been adapted with permission from A Citizen’s Guide to the 125th Maine Legislature, a publication by the Maine People’s Resource Center.