Before Legislators vote on any bill, they give citizens the opportunity to comment on that bill in a public hearing. Public testimony is part of the Committee review process for every bill. Committee Chairs decide when to schedule a public hearing. You can use the legislative website to find the time and location for the public hearing on a bill. (https://www.leg.mt.gov)
Whether in person or virtual, there is an order and form that the hearing will follow.
First, the Committee chair asks the bill’s sponsor to explain the bill, laying out the intent and reasons for the proposed law.
Then, the Chair asks for proponents for the bill, i.e., those who support the bill. Usually, those who are present in the room who support the bill will then go up one at a time to the podium and give their testimony. Then, the Chair will ask for virtual proponents, those who are testifying using computer or phone who support the bill.
Once all the proponents have testified, the Chair will ask for testimony from opponents, i.e., those who oppose the bill. The Chair may first call on people in the room to testify, followed by those who are testifying virtually. If there are too many people and time becomes short, you may be unable to present your full your testimony.
Finally, the Chair asks for “informational witnesses” such as representatives of the agency that would have to implement the law comment on the proposed bill. For example, the Secretary of State’s office would comment on the absentee ballot bill while Fish, Wildlife and Parks would address the hunting license bill.
If you are able to travel to Helena, you can testify before the committee in person. If you are there in person, you register on a sign-in sheet as you enter the Committee meeting room.
This year, you can also testify live virtually, either by phone or by using your computer. To testify live from home, you must register no later than noon the day before the hearing. Go to the link below and enter your information and be sure to check “yes” at the bottom to the question “do you want to testify.” https://leg.mt.gov/public-testimony/
If you are testifying virtually, you must pay attention to when it is appropriate for you to testify. If you are a proponent for the bill, you must click on the “Raise Hand” button on your computer screen when the hearing on your specific bill starts, and leave it raised until you are called upon. If you are an opponent, you must wait until the Chair calls for opponents to testify on your bill before you hit the “Raise Hand” button. Again, leave your hand raised until you are called upon.
The committee Zoom host will call on each virtual person in order and will unmute your microphone when it is your turn. YOU WILL ALSO HAVE TO UNMUTE YOUR MICROPHONE. A message will pop up on your screen asking you to unmute when the host calls on you.
It is a good idea to prepare your testimony before the hearing begins; write it out so you can refer to it as you testify. The Legislative site also recommends submitting a written copy of your testimony when you register for virtual testimony. If you are testifying in person, have enough copies of your printed testimony to give to all the Committee members.
Whether in-person or virtually, start by addressing your testimony to the committee chair and members of the committee. For example, “Madame (or Mr.) Chair, Members of this Committee,” then clearly state your name and how to spell your last name. “My name is ____ spelled ______.”
Next, state the bill number and your position (favor or oppose). Then briefly explain your reasons, keeping your testimony short and to the point. A brief story of how the bill will affect you or someone you know is also a powerful way to testify.
Finally, thank the Chair and Committee for considering your testimony.
Committees may have follow-up questions for you, so remain in the meeting room until the meeting ends.
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org