This is the third in a blog series about being an effective advocate at the Capitol. We encourage all Raise Your Hand Texas members to voice your support and concerns when it comes to issues that affect you, your children, your public schools and communities.
Testifying before a committee of Texas legislators may seem like a daunting idea, especially if you have never done it before. The truth is, it’s a relatively easy process, and the results can be quite impactful and even law-changing!
Finding your way through the Capitol complex to a committee hearing room in the Capitol Extension may be the most difficult part about testifying. But once you’re in the right place, testifying is a straightforward process.
If you feel strongly about a bill or an interim charge (read our recent blog post about interim charges), you may either register a position or testify verbally “For,” “On,” or “Against” an issue.
For and against are straightforward positions. Taking a position “on” a bill means you aren’t exclusively in favor or against. Often times, individuals testifying “on” will praise and criticize parts of a bill, giving their input on how to make improvements or technical corrections.
In a Hurry? Register Your Position!
Registering a position only (not verbally testifying) for a bill has pros and cons. While you won’t be able to share your story about a particular issue, registering your position is a quick and easy way to give your opinion in an official way. To register a position, simply complete a witness registration card (see details below) denoting that you are registering a position only, not testifying. Since it’s impossible to know what a person’s concerns are without hearing from them, it is not recommended to register a position “on” a bill without also testifying verbally.
Your name and position will be read into the register and included in the official hearing documents for that bill. The main advantage to registering a position is you do not have to wait your turn to testify verbally – some hearings last several hours. You can turn in your witness registration form when the hearing begins, regardless of when the bill you register for appears on the agenda.
Telling Your Story
While registering your position is the easiest approach, the best way to have the greatest impact on an issue is to share your personal story. Testifying in front of a panel of legislators is the most effective way to communicate your compliments or concerns about a bill those very members will vote on. Anecdotal stories can be stronger than data alone.
Don’t underestimate the impact you can have. Many legislators shape their opinions as a result of compelling testimony. The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) offers more great tips on testifying.
Whether you’re registering a position or testifying verbally, you must complete a witness card. In the Texas Senate, it’s still done the “old school” way – by filling out a card by hand and turning it into the committee clerk. Witness cards are usually stacked on tables in the back of the hearing room; if not, ask the clerk for one. (Note: the Senate is said to be moving to electronic registration, starting with the 84th Legislative Session.)
In the Texas House, technology has replaced witness cards, as witnesses need only find a witness registration station near the committee rooms and follow the directions on the screen, or register from your mobile device. The House Witness Registration page has all the details and a map of stations. You are encouraged to create your public profile in advance to save time on hearing days.
You Can Do It!
That’s it! Raise Your Hand Texas encourages everyone who feels passionately about an issue to testify about it during the interim or legislative session.
Your next opportunity to testify about public education is at the Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday, August 26, where they will be discussing STAAR writing scores and legislation passed last session, including HB 1926 about virtual education.