How any person can testify at the State House EFFECTIVELY
By Mike Reynolds
Ability Maine Staff
With the legislative session under way, more legislative
documents being published, and public hearings being scheduled. This is
a brief, concise and simple guide to learning about a bill, preparing
testimony, going to a public hearing in Augusta, and presenting in
front of a committee.
With the election in November, the voters of Maine elected the 127th
legislature, which is comprised of a House of Representatives and
Senate. The legislature has a two year term, in December, a few weeks
after election day, Legislators give the names of the bills they want
“requested to be heard” or brought in front of the full legislature for
consideration in the first term. In mid January, the titles of
the Legislative requests (LR's) are released; this year there are over
1800 bills up for consideration. The titles alone comprised a 135
Once the legislators decide what bills they want to introduce,
the request goes to the Revisor's Office to have bill text drafted and
published as a Legislative Document (LD). Please note - Legislative
requests are NOT processed in ANY chronological order and it can take
months for all the bills to make it out of the office. It is at this time where the legislature will determine which committee
will hear the bill. Legislative Requests that have the similar wording
or intent or sometimes merged into the same Legislative Document.
Once the bill is published in a Legislative Document, it should not be
long until a public hearing is scheduled for it. Once a public hearing
is scheduled, mark it on your calendar and start preparing your
testimony. Now, while most of the people who speak on a particular bill
will have their testimony typed, it definitely is not a requirement. If
you are going to bring typed testimony, most committees require between
20 to 25 copies.
Often, when committees are hearing numerous bills, they will limit
testimony in a public hearing to three to five minutes. If there are a
large number of bills, it might help to check with the committee. If
have a disability that may slow or limit your ability to be understood,
such as a speech impediment, Let someone like the committee clerk or
make a simple request at the beginning of your testimony, it should not
be a problem to be accommodated. A good rule of thumb is that
testimony should fit easily if it is between 300 to 500 words.
After the public hearing, a work session is held on the bill and the
public can attend, but generally is not asked to speak. After the
committee's work session there will generally be a vote of the
committee to either pass or not pass the bill. The committee can also
table or motion to kill a bill. If the bill is not tabled, it will be
voted out of committee. The bill will face further votes in the
House and Senate, before it makes it
to the governor, where he can sign it, veto it, or do nothing, after
which the bill will become law after ten days. If the Governor vetoes
the bill, the House and Senate can try to override the bill with a
The Maine Legislature has an excellent website outlining a wide variety of Special Accommodations available at http://legislature.maine.gov/lio/special-accommodations/.
The services include Assistive Listening Devices (ALD’s) ASL
Interpreters can be scheduled through the 800 number located at the
bottom of that website. Computer-assisted real-time
transcription, Re-sized and Large print publications are also
available. Wheelchairs and Emergency Rescue chairs are available at the
State House. The State House and Cross Office Building are both
fully wheelchair accessible. When going into the State House you will
need to go through security, don't bring any sharp scissors or knives
or they will have to be left with security. I do use a wheelchair
for mobility part time, but have never been through security using my
wheelchair, though I have used other mobility devices and had nothing
but the most professional treatment.
Committee rooms are small; they can be difficult to navigate with a
wheelchair or other mobility device. One strategy is during hearings with loads of people it may be
easier to sit in an overflow room and listen in on the audio being
piped in. All restrooms in the capitol complex are ADA compliant,
and are really comfortable facilities.
All sessions of the House and Senate are broadcast online in audio as
well as all committee meetings. MPBN Television does record some
hearings. I do not believe there is any sort of archive kept, nor
listings of what is going to be recorded or shown
prior to their broadcast. For the audio broadcasts that originate from The Maine
Legislature website, VLC Player, available for Mac, Windows and Linux,
is a terrific player that will play the audio files excellently, and
even can save streams. Best of all it is free at videolan.org.
Other useful tips
Always double check the time of the hearing on the day of the hearing.
This IS especially true for work sessions where a session's time can
often change. Towards the end of a session, it is not uncommon
for legislative activities to go past midnight and online schedules
become outdated and unreliable.
If you are presenting detailed and difficult to understand concepts in
regards to a bill, or have a specific study or paper that is difficult
to obtain, send it to the committee with your testimony before the
hearing, It will let the committee digest the information you are
trying to present. By keeping the paper or study separate from your
testimony, your testimony will be preserved online. If you are
reading from, say, an oped you wrote for a newspaper, do not print
copies of that op-ed. The Legislative law library strictly
enforces copyright. Print the same op ed as a word processed document.