Tips on Testifying at a Committee Hearing
A committee may consider several bills during an afternoon. The committee chairperson determines the order in which bills will be heard, the rules for testifying and whether there will be a time limit on your testimony. The length of time spent on each bill varies and depends largely on the number of people testifying, the length of their testimony and the number of questions asked by committee members.
Usually, unless otherwise indicated, hearings begin at 1:30 p.m. Each bill is presented by the senator who sponsors it. After the sponsoring senator finishes his or her introduction, the committee chair typically will ask proponents of the bill to come forward individually and state their reasons for supporting the measure. Then, the chair will ask the bill's opponents to come forward and state their opinions. Often, committee chairpersons will allow individuals to testify in a neutral capacity.
If you want to testify before the committee, you will need to fill out the sign-in sheet at the witness table, orally identify yourself and spell your last name for the record, and state who, if anyone, you represent as you begin your testimony. It is important to remember that committee proceedings are transcribed verbatim.
Letters or written communications containing support, opposition or neutral testimony also are accepted by committees during a bill's public hearing. Persons wishing to send written information should address their correspondence to the office of the senator who chairs the committee and ensure that the information arrives before the hearing.
As a concerned citizen, there are several ways in which you may communicate effectively with your senator in an attempt to suggest or influence legislation. One way is to testify at a legislative hearing.
At public hearings, citizens have an opportunity within the time available to make their views known or have them incorporated into the official committee record. In Nebraska, gubernatorial appointments and most bills, with the exception of a few technical bills, receive a public hearing by one of the Legislature's committees.
Generally, testimony on legislative bills is heard by one of the Legislature's 14 standing committees:
- Banking, Commerce and Insurance
- Business and Labor
- General Affairs
- Government, Military and Veterans Affairs
- Health and Human Services
- Natural Resources
- Nebraska Retirement Systems
- Transportation and Telecommunications
- Urban Affairs
Each of these committees has seven to nine members.
Public hearings on bills typically are held in the afternoons during the first half of the legislative session. Committees have assigned hearing rooms and meeting days, although they sometimes meet at different times and places in order to accommodate witnesses or large audiences.
Visit the Legislative Calendar to see when hearings are scheduled. On the Hearing Schedule web page you can download a PDF of the weekly hearing schedule or enter dates to create a hearing schedule for print.
Be aware that sometimes the sponsor of a bill will offer amendments when he or she presents the bill to the committee. These proposed amendments may change the way you feel about the bill and, thus, affect your testimony.
Be prepared to limit your testimony and try not to repeat testimony offered by previous witnesses. Remember that while senators want to hear what you have to say, there are numerous witnesses who also want to be heard.
Be prepared to answer questions asked by committee members.
Most observers agree that, as a witness, you will be more effective in getting your message across if you have prepared your testimony in writing. If you do this, it is helpful to bring enough copies to distribute to all committee members, the two committee staff members, media and the transcribers' office. Fifteen copies is usually enough to accomplish this. If written testimony is lengthy, it can be distributed and summarized orally to conserve the committee's time.
Addressing committee members or witnesses from the audience, public demonstrations and applause are prohibited.
You should not be offended if senators come and go during a hearing. They have other commitments, including the presentation of bills in other committees that are meeting simultaneously.
If auxiliary aids or reasonable accommodations are needed for you to attend a hearing, please call the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature, (402) 471-2271, or if you have a hearing or speech impairment, please call the Ombudsman's Office at (402) 471-2035 or 800-742-7690. Advance notice of seven days is needed when requesting an interpreter.