Testifying before a Legislative Committee can be a satisfying and worthwhile experience. Your expertise may be valuable to the committee. However, unprepared and poorly-delivered testimony can be detrimental to your position on a bill. Remember that you can always represent your own viewpoints, but only the representatives of the ULELC are authorized to represent the positions of the ULELC, and then only after consideration and voting by the ULELC.
1. Know the committee.
The members of the committee are “citizen legislators.” In addition to their public service, they have full-time jobs. They are farmers, public employees, doctors, lawyers, homemakers, craftsmen, and a host of other occupations and professions. A few are actually public safety professionals, actively serving or retired. They are a cross section of Utah’s society. Most of them are deeply concerned about the impact of legislation on each and every law enforcement and corrections officer. Public safety professionals enjoy very accommodating reception from legislators.
These men and women were elected to office by the very citizens that we, as public safety officers, serve day and night. They share our desire for a safe and orderly community. Always, always be courteous and respectful of the office held by a Representative and Senator. It is never so important to disagree and not be disagreeable as it is when testifying about a bill. You may not share the views of other witnesses, but do not scold, put down, or insult the decision-makers or other witnesses. This tactic is rude, beneath you, and is very ineffective.
2. Know the Issue.
Support your personal opinions with clear, understandable facts. Be knowledgeable of the “other side of the story.” You may be asked to discuss the differences. Be ready to state the impact on your community and on your profession. Be prepared for questions. Draw from your own knowledge and experience. Never, ever, misrepresent the facts. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so, and offer to find the answer quickly.
3. Be Familiar with the Committee Process
Know the meeting time and location. Meeting times and locations are found on the meeting agenda. Agendas are posted 24 hours in advance of the meeting on the third floor of the State Capitol building or they can be located at the legislative home page on the Internet. Check to make sure the issue you are following has not been removed from the agenda.
Contact the staff policy analyst in advance of the meeting to request permission to testify and to be placed on the committee chair’s list of those wishing to speak. If possible, attend a committee meeting before you testify to become familiar with the process and room layout.
Is this really an issue on which you need to testify? Have legislators been adequately informed of the issues? Would a single representative from the public safety committee be just as, or more, effective as a parade of witnesses? The legislators work very long hours during the General Session. Each minute is precious. Don’t waste their time. They will appreciate it. You may find that your influence grows far more in one-on-one contacts and just by being in the audience, prepared to respond to a question if asked.
4. Prepare Your Written Testimony and Oral Presentation
Give copies of your testimony to the committee staff before you begin your presentation. Single page fact sheets with contact information are the very best. Be sure to provide a copy to all legislative staff present with the committee. Lengthy written testimony may never be read. Begin your presentation by addressing the chairperson first, then members of the committee. "Chair ________, members of the committee . . . ." For the record, state your name, address, and the organization or group you represent. State your purpose for testifying. Do not read your testimony to the committee word for word. Prepare an outline. Be prepared to summarize your testimony in one minute--that may be all the time you are allowed. When told to stop, stop. Thank the committee members and offer to answer any questions.