Testifying In Annapolis
The Maryland General Assembly meets for 90 days every year to conduct its legislative business. The session begins within the first ten days of January and lasts until early April. During this time, the House and Senate consider thousands of bills. These proposed laws have the potential to proposed laws affect everything from high school graduation requirements to traffic violations to tax rates.
Before a bill can become a law in the State of Maryland, it must be heard before House and Senate Committees. During these Committee Hearings, the public is welcome to submit written testimony or attend and provide oral testimony. Testimony can argue why a person or organization thinks the bill should pass as-is, be amended, or not pass at all.
The General Assembly has no age requirements on who may testify.
If you want to testify in front of a Maryland Senate or House committee, you must follow certain rules.
- Arrive 90 Minutes Early
On-street parking in Annapolis is extremely difficult to find. Plan to arrive early so you can park, walk to the Senate or House Office building, and find the committee hearing room.
- Bring Your State ID
All visitors are required to go through a metal detector and have their bags checked. Adults may be asked to show ID.
- Sign Up to Testify
Anyone wishing to speak in front of the House or Senate Committee MUST sign-up ONE HOUR before the hearing starts. “Sign up” happens through wall-mounted, touch screen monitors located outside of each hearing room. If your name does not appear on the list, you will not be allowed to tesify. Sign-up closes one hour before the hearing begins. Committee Hearings usually start at 1:00pm. If you are testifying in support of a bill, you can try calling the lead sponsor’s office to see if a staff member will get your name on the list ahead of time.
- Be Patient
All bills are assigned the same Committee Hearing start time. The Committee Chair will decide the order in which the bills will be heard. Sometimes a bill sponsor will request a later hearing time because they have a conflict with another committee obligation. You may have to wait up to four hours before your bill is called.
- Keep It Short
You will have a maximum of three (3) minutes to speak. Committee chairs are known for cutting people off, if they go over their allotted time.
- Be Prepared
Bring a typed, double-spaced copy of your oral testimony, printed in a large font so you can easily track what you want to say. If you want to share written testimony that includes data tables, graphs, or links to further information, that is in addition to your oral testimony, bring 35 copies and be sure to give it to Committee Staff as soon as you arrive.
- Practice Ahead of Time
Practice clearly reading your testimony before the day of the hearing. You will be sitting at a desk with a microphone mounted on the table top. Your testimony will be recorded, as well as live-streamed. Do not hold your papers up as you read, as it will block the microphone.
- Anticipate Questions
Be prepared to answer questions that committee members may have for you.
Preparing to testify before a House or Senate Committee can seem overwhelming, if you’ve never done it before. Even though there’s no one “right” way to testify, we’ve put together a handy list of hints that will help you organize your thoughts and focus your arguments so you can present as polished and professional when it’s your turn to speak about a proposed bill.
- State your name and the county you live in.
- State any relevant credentials you may have, including the number of years you’ve homeschooled; how many children have gone on to post-secondary opportunities (ex- college, military, vocational school, work); relevant degrees you may hold; or relevant work experience. NOTE: Keep this part to no more than 15-20 seconds.
- Begin by thanking the Delegates or Senators for their time.
- Name the bill you are testifying about and clearly state if you are speaking IN SUPPORT or AGAINST the bill.
- You have approximately 3 minutes to present your “facts” that support your argument for the bill.
- Personal stories that demonstrate a particular point are good, but don’t spend too much time talking about you or your children.
- If you do share personal anecdotes, focus on your own (unless it is an immediate family member). Telling someone else’s story without their permission is hearsay and doesn’t carry as much weight.
- Don’t make your story too emotional or of a victimized nature. Most education-related bills do not win support with these kinds of tactics.
- Focus your testimony on only one or two reasons why the bill is good or bad. Make the most of your three minutes by aiming for depth of argument, rather than trying to cover too many points.
- Present factual evidence. For example, if you are arguing a homeschool diploma is unnecessary as part of a college application process, prepare a sheet that lists links to relevant Maryland college admission requirements. If you quote a source, be sure to give proper credit.
- Refer to actual case law, if you know of any that relate to the bill. Be specific with your citation and prepare a written testimony list that can be shared with each committee member.
- Refer to other state laws or regulations, if you know of any that relate to the bill. Be specific with your citation and prepare a written testimony list that can be shared with each committee member.
- After you identify your points for why the bill is needed or not needed, summarize your argument with the positive or negative effect associated with the bill, should it pass.
- If appropriate, offer an alternative idea that the committee could consider in lieu of the bill.
- If appropriate, offer an amendment to the bill that would strengthen it.
- Thank the committee members for the time and willingness to listen to your testimony.
NOTE: If you bring written testimony for the Committee to look at, check to see how many copies you must have – and be certain to provide it to the Committee’s staff before the hearing begins.
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Last modified on September 13, 2019