June Advocacy Tip: Testify at a Public Hearing

We are in the midst of the 2017-18 legislative session and legislative committees are holding hearings every week on proposed bills. Follow along with us here at the Legislative Update to find out what K-12 bills have hearings in a given week.

Is there a bill subject that you feel passionate about or have a strong experience or insight into?  We’d love to have you come to the Capitol in Madison to testify.  WASB staff would be happy to assist you by answering any questions or even helping to navigate the process of registering to speak at the hearing.

It can seem like a daunting prospect, but many school board members have done it and testifying on a bill is a rewarding experience of having participated in our democracy. Legislative hearings are typically held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the late morning to early/mid afternoon.

Here are some general tips for testifying at a public hearing:

  • Prepare your testimony in advance.  Many times WASB can assist with talking points and information for preparing testimony.
  • Has your board taken a formal position on the issue (resolution/motion/statement)?  If yes and your board authorizes it, you can speak on behalf of the board and provide written testimony on your district’s letterhead and have it distributed to committee members when you testify.  To cover committee members and staff, bring at least 20 copies for distribution in addition to your copy.
  • If your board has neither taken a formal position nor authorized you to speak on behalf of the board, you are always free to speak as an individual board member and not representing your board or district.
  • Bring a pen and notepad to use for taking notes.  You may want to eliminate points that were made earlier by others and focus on other points depending on how the hearing goes.
  • In order to testify, you will need to fill out a registration slip. Typically they are provided at a registration table outside the hearing room.  Fill out the form and return it to the staff.  They typically wear blazers with name badges.  Make sure to indicate you are there to speak.
  • If the bill is controversial or high profile or if there are other controversial bills ahead on the one you want to address, you may be in for a wait.  Otherwise, hearings can go rather quickly.
  • When you are called to testify, briefly thank the committee chair and members for the opportunity to testify and identify yourself and your school district.  If your legislator is on the committee, make a note of that before beginning.  Be prepared to lead with your local situation and examples of how the proposed bill will impact your district.
  • Following your testimony, committee members have the opportunity to ask you questions regarding your comments. If you don’t know the answer, acknowledge the question and offer to provide the information with a follow-up letter to the committee.