ADVOCACY TOOLKIT

Public Hearings & Testimony

Legislative Committees hold public hearings on bills during which anyone may submit testimony, either in a written document or by attending the hearing and delivering the testimony in person.

 

This testimony, either written or verbal, becomes part of the public record and the decision-making process.

Should I Testify at a Public Hearing?

If a bill is important to you (either pro or con), you should always testify at the hearing, if you possibly can.  If you absolutely can’t do this, it is possible to submit written testimony instead.  If you are part of a group of individuals or different organizations, you should organize a panel so that you appear together.

When & Where is the Public Hearing?

Hearings will be posted at least 72 hours in advance.
 

View all State House public hearings and events >>

Signing up to speak 

Arrive early at the hearing room to put your name and affiliation on the sign-up sheet, brought forward by the committee staff. If you are testifying as part of a panel, have the panel sign up together and indicate on the sign-up sheet that it is a panel.

Each legislative committee will run its hearing sign-ups a bit differently: some alternate supporters and opposition, some go by first-come first-serve. All committees allow elected officials and administration officials to speak first, generally followed by organizations, and finally members of the public. 

The Committee is likely hearing many bills in one day, so it may take several hours before your turn arises. Be prepared to be in the State House for quite a while. Food is not allowed in hearing rooms, but you may bring a water bottle. There is a cafeteria on the 4th floor, but you will have to eat your snacks outside the hearing room.

Arriving at the State House >>

Preparing Testimony

  • If submitting written testimony, it should be formatted as a letter to the committee.
    See who is on your committee >>

     

  • First, introduce yourself or your organization and whether you’re there “in support” or “in opposition” to the bill (identified by bill number). 
     

  • Summarize your position.
     

  • Explain why you’re invested in this bill. How will it impact you and the things you care about? Are there any strong anecdotes that illustrate your point?
     

  • There is no length limit on written testimony, but still aim to be succinct. 
     

  • Include catchy, easy to understand data. Quantitatively supporting your points is crucial. Be ready to explain how you arrived at your numbers.
     

  • Only one person from your organization should submit testimony on behalf of the group. If others want to be on record as well, they can do so as private citizens.

Giving Testimony in Person

  • Be succinct - you likely only have 3 minutes or less to convey your points. 
     

  • First, introduce yourself and whether you’re there “in support” or “in opposition” to the bill (identified by bill number). 
     

  • Thank the Committee Chairs for the opportunity to testify. 
     

  • Summarize your position.
     

  • Explain why you’re invested in this bill. How will it impact you and the things you care about? Are there any strong anecdotes that illustrate your point?
     

  • Include catchy, easy to understand data. Quantitatively supporting your points is crucial, but make sure to recite your numbers slowly and be ready to explain how you arrived at your numbers.
     

  • Say thank you again for their time and let them know you’re happy to answer any questions they may have. 
     

  • Bring enough copies of your testimony to give to all members of the Committee. 
     

  • Speak slowly! You may be nervous and speak faster than you usually would. Make a conscious effort to slow down and take pauses so everyone in the room can absorb your excellent points.
     

  • Legislators may ask you questions. If you don’t know the answer, that’s okay! Say you’re not sure but that you are happy to find out for them after the hearing. 
     

  • Take notes on the previous speakers to avoid repeating points and so you can address any misleading or false points made by the opposition. 
     

  • Bring supporters! The more folks who show up to the hearing, the more important the bill appears to legislators. Fill the room with supporters to show how significant this issue is. If possible, try and coordinate a visible sign of unity with your team, whether that be a button, sticker, or t-shirt, so legislators can quickly tell where folks stand. 
     

  • Take photos! Cameras are allowed in the hearing room, and you’ll want to have a record of your participation to show organizational members and supporters. 

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Founded in 2007, Mass Rivers works to strengthen statewide river policies in four areas: Water quality, stream flow, wildlife habitat, and investment in green infrastructure.

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gretchenmcclain@massriversalliance.org

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Cambridge, MA 02140

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