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.

The Basics

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 page document.

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 you 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 2/3rds vote.

Access

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.

Legislative Broadcasts

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.