At our March 2019 meeting Ben Bowman from COSA (Confederation of Oregon School Administrators), Megan McMillan from Family Forward, and Carl Fisher, field organizer for Washington County Democrats and legislative assistant to Rep. Sheri Schouten gave us insight into the daily workings of the Oregon Legislature.
Carl Fisher reflected on a day in the legislature, including some of the puns that surfaced as the Onion Growers sought to eliminate archaic regulatory oversight. It is clear that every day in the legislature is a whirlwind of issues, contacts and decisions. All are urged to visit the capitol, even if just to have a tour and sit in on a committee. It is almost always possible to meet with either your legislative members or their staff if you call ahead and make an appointment.
Whether tracking a bill on Oregon Legistative Information System (OLIS) or testifying before a legislative committee, all of us can learn more about what is happening in Salem and make our voices heard. Nancy Lewis talked about how to give testimony before a legislative committee and Linus Carleton took us on a tour of OLIS.
How to testify to a legislative committee
Submit written testimony or exhibits 24 hours in advance to the committee email listed on OLIS (http://olis.leg.state.or.us). You can also just submit written testimony and not testify in person if you choose.
Try to watch some committee hearings in advance, either in person or on OLIS to see how things are done and hear what makes good testimony.
When you enter the committee room, sign in that you want to testify under the bill you are speaking to
Know that, if there are many people talking, your testimony may be limited to two minutes or less. It is good to practice at home and time yourself.
You may be called up along with another person or two, not necessarily in the order you signed up.
The microphones work well - you should make sure it is close to you, but you don’t have to talk directly into it.
Begin your testimony:
“Chair ___ and members of the committee. For the record, my name is__, I am from__.”
Don’t just read what you put into your written testimony - that will be available to the committee members and staff as well as what you say.
A good approach is to explain why you care about the issue and then give a personal story of how it relates to you. Make a clear ask of what you want to committee to do - for instance pass the bill as is, kill the bill, amend the bill in a certain way.
Be sure that any facts you cite are accurate.
Always be respectful. If you address anyone on the committee it is done through the chair:
“Chair___ and members of the committee.”
Alway use formal titles (Senator, Representative, etc. even if you know the members well.”
When you are finished, thank the committee and offer to answer any questions.
The committee members are citizen legislators. They frequently are anxious to learn more about the issues they are voting on. They are also nice and don’t expect you to necessarily be a polished speaker. Important things in a presentation are clarity, honesty, and respect. You can make a difference.
How to “lobby” a legislator
You can make an appointment to meet with a legislator or staff member. Staff members are frequently really good people to talk to - they advise the legislator and may specialize in what you are talking about.
Guidelines are much like for public testimony. If you are with a group, plan what you will say ahead of time.
You may get 10 to 15 minutes if you are lucky. Be a little early to make sure you use all of your time.