Recently, four of our DelaDems testified at the Ohio Statehouse to comment on bills that are currently making their way through the legislature. In addition to Mary Kate Pembroke and David Carpenter, who shared their thoughts with us on the experience and the process of providing testimony, Valerie Cumming, Westerville City Council member and Andrea Yagoda testified on HB178 (concealed carry with no training or permits).
Mary Kate Pembroke spoke to the Ohio Senate Education Subcommittee on May 7 as a proponent for SB 102.
SB 102 (Lehner, R-6 and Brenner, R-19) would provide screening for dyslexia and appropriate intervention for Ohio children before the age of six. My testimony focused on my son’s difficult experience in early elementary school. I cited the importance of identifying and providing early intervention before children’s mental health suffers, and before students are punished for behaviors that are labeled as lazy or defiant. I fielded follow-up questions from Senators Fedor, Brenner, and Lehner, but I was disappointed that Sen. Brenner was not present to hear my testimony; he is a co-sponsor of the bill, I am his constituent, and he is a graduate of the school district in my testimony. Senator Fedor sought me out in the hallway after the committee meeting adjourned and greeted my son as well. For anyone who is looking to speak in a committee meeting, Disability Rights Ohio the Facebook group “How Things Work at the Ohio Statehouse” give clear explanations of how to stay updated on committee schedules and how to provide testimony.
David Carpenter testified on HB6, and provides pointers on how to testify
Over the past few years, I have testified at the Statehouse several times on energy related issues. The most recent has been my testimony in opposition to House Bill 6 (Callendar, R-61 and Wilken, R-91), a bill that alleges to create a “clean energy fund” to support energy projects. However, this bill has an Orwellian name, since the criteria for qualifying to access these funds has been written in such a way that only large generators, such as nuclear power plants and coal-fired plants, can qualify for support. The Fund gets its money, in part, by removing all state support for our energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. It’s a terrible bill that takes away incentives for emerging renewable technology to provide subsidies for obsolete technologies and decaying facilities. It makes no sense economically or ecologically, but it supports the lobbyists who fill the campaign coffers of the majority party.
Pointers on Testifying
Testifying is easier than you think. All you have to do is fill out a short “Witness Information Form,” and email it with a copy of your written testimony to the chair of the committee responsible for the hearing on the bill. When you fill out the form, there is a question about the length of your verbal testimony. Presenting verbally is an option, not required.
There is a protocol to how to address your testimony, both in written and in verbal testimony. It is easy to “copy” this protocol from other testimony, and prior testimony is available on the Statehouse website. I recommend going to hear others testify, if possible, before you do it yourself, just to add confidence. This is an eye-opening experience that everyone should do occasionally anyway.
Knowing when and where testimony should be given requires a bit more work. Either make a request to a committee on their website to receive notifications, or make a similar request from an organization that tracks Statehouse activity (or both!). For energy issues, I follow the Ohio Environmental Council, Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal,” and I receive “House Energy and Natural Resources Committee” email notifications. Don’t expect a lot of advance warning. You generally have about one or two days.
Beyond following a few protocols, you are free to write or say whatever you want. It can be highly technical with charts, references and addendums, or just a short expression of how you feel. Preparing to give verbal testimony requires you to be a little bit light on your feet. Sometimes they allow extensive verbal testimony, and sometimes they limit your time. I have been allowed anywhere from two to eight minutes to give testimony. They sometimes limit you on rather short notice, so it is best to prioritize your verbal remarks.
The verbal protocols are real simple, if annoying. You simply say “Chairman X, Ranking Member Y, and members of the Z Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of/opposition to House/Senate Bill XX. My name is XY, and I represent XZ.” If they ask you follow up questions, you begin each answer with “Chairman X, Ranking Member Y, and members of the Committee.”