How to Testify at a State House Hearing

Is Peace Breaking Out on Beacon Hill

Every bill submitted to the State Legislature is assigned to a committee, and the committee will schedule every bill for a hearing, often with several bills in the same hearing.  Hearings typically occur from April to December of the year in which the bill is filed.   Any citizen can testify at the hearing, and the hearing will not adjourn until everyone has been heard.   Hearings must be posted at least 72 hours beforehand; see the schedule of upcoming hearings.

For most hearings you sign up to testify on a paper form which is available outside the hearing room starting 15-30 minutes before the hearing.   Provide your identification, such as your organization, town, or professional role if applicable.

Testimony can be submitted orally, in writing, or both.   Oral testimony is usually limited to 3 minutes.    

Pointers for crafting 3-minute oral testimony (with written backup)

  • 250-300 words is about what most people can say in 3 minutes.  Write it, then practice in front of a mirror and time yourself.
  • Begin your testimony by greeting the chair or chairs of the committee and thanking them for the opportunity to speak.
  • State the name and number of the bill that you are supporting or opposing.  
  • Introduce yourself and any credentials relevant to your testimony/interest in this issue. SHARE a personal story or knowledge that shows why this is a critical issue for you.
  • If previous speakers have already covered the points you were going to make, you can simply say that you agree with the testimony of so-and-so and urge the committee to approve or reject the bill.
  • Be sure to link your testimony to the bill itself.
  • Focus on one issue/argument only; include specific facts/information/substantiation.
  • Avoid hyperbole/charged rhetoric. Assume good will and eagerness to learn on the part of legislators.
  • Speak from your heart. 
  • You may show charts but you can’t use Powerpoint or a projector.
  • Reference your written testimony.
  • Thank the elected officials.

Testifying in person (3 minutes)

  • Many hearings address a number of bills and testimony for all the bills may be mixed together.   Many times the committees hear all testifiers for all bills on a first-come, first serve basis.  Legislators will be taken out of turn.  For directions, transportation, parking and accessibility, see https://malegislature.gov/statehouse/visit.
  • Oral testimony should be no more than 3 minutes.  They will cut you off.
  • Arrive early.  You have to get through security before you sign in.
  • Everyone is welcome to testify, but not everyone may wish to or be able to. Come anyway and show your support. Be respectful of the space. But be present.
  • No posters or signs are allowed.
  • Oral testimony does NOT go into the record unless accompanied by written testimony. For this reason, we ask that everyone who wishes to testify provide written testimony whether or not you plan to testify in person.  Written testimony may be as long as you like.