Providing verbal, in-person testimony at the Texas Capitol is one of the most effective ways for citizens to participate in and influence the legislative process. We’ve created this legislative witness guide for people who want their voices heard and are eager to make a valuable contribution to the creation of policies that they care about most.
Before you visit the Capitol, it’s important to understand how the process works and what you can prepare for in advance.
How the Committee Process Works
A key phase of the life-cycle of a bill is the committee process. Once a bill is filed by an author, it is assigned to one of many committees, depending on the nature of the bill. It is during open committee hearings that the general public and subject matter experts are invited to share their perspectives and expertise that might help legislators understand the impact a bill could have on the lives of Texans.
Providing Verbal, In-Person Testimony
On the day of the hearing, the committee chair calls out each bill as it comes up to be heard by the committee. After a bill is called and its author explains the bill, the chair will call out names of people who have registered to provide oral, in-person testimony, or “witnesses.”
When your name is called as a witness, you will go up to the committee panel or podium, state your name, who you represent, your position on the bill, and then provide your testimony.
Preparing Your Testimony
First and foremost, it is important to note that there are time limits to each testimony. The chair will cut you off once your time has passed. However, these time limitations can vary depending on the committee chair, as well as how many other witnesses have signed up to provide testimonies that day.
Our rule of thumb: prepare your testimony such that you can read it out loud in two minutes or less. If you have more to say than what you can fit in two minutes, you can prepare two versions of your testimony: one oral, one written. The written testimony can be submitted to the committee and be as long as you like (just be sure to print at least 20 copies to hand over to the committee). The oral version of your testimony will be subject to time limitations.
As you consider what to say in your testimony, here are some additional tips on how to prepare:
Where and When to Arrive
Usually a committee will announce when they plan to hear a particular bill at least 48 hours in advance. These hearings can start as early as 8:00 AM or as late as 5:30 PM. You can check when and where your bill has been scheduled for a hearing on the Texas Legislature Online website by entering your bill number in the top right search bar. Once you’re on the bill page, look for its assigned House or Senate committee roughly halfway down the page and click the hyperlink. This will take you to the public notice for the hearing in which your bill will be heard with the time and room number.
A note about timing: Many hearings start “upon adjournment” of the House or Senate, depending on which legislative branch the bill currently resides with, which means that they will not hear the bill until they are finished with their floor calendar for that day and that varies from day to day. Every circumstance will be different, but it is helpful to note that in the first half of the Session (January – March) the floor calendar is likely to end on the earlier side (as early as 10:30 AM) and in the second half of the Session (April – May), hearings are likely to begin later (around 2:00 PM and later into the evening).
Keep in mind, each committee creates its own rules and processes for hearing testimony so when in doubt, be sure to contact Equality Texas and we will do everything possible to advise you on when and where a bill will be heard by a particular committee.
First: Register to Testify
In order to orally share your testimony, you must first register to testify as a witness. You may register as early as 10:30 AM the day a bill is scheduled to be heard by the assigned committee. You can register at a kiosk/iPad, which are usually located in the hallway between the main concourse and legislator offices in the Capitol Extension (the E Floors). You may even register from your laptop or phone if you are connected to the Public-Capitol WiFi network.
Once you are on the registration welcome screen, select the committee your bill has been assigned to, then select your bill from the list of bills they are hearing that day. You will then enter your position (For/Against) and whether or not you wish to testify. On the next few screens, you will enter your name, job title, and address, as well as designate whether you are testifying on behalf of yourself or a business. You will review all of your information, submit, and then receive a confirmation message.
In rare cases, particularly if your bill is assigned to the Senate State Affairs committee, you will not able to digitally register for your hearing. In those cases, you may have to manually register by filling out a physical card in the committee room your hearing has been assigned to.
Then: Sit, Wait, and Be Ready at a Moments Notice
As mentioned, each committee makes its own rules regarding the order in which each bill will be heard and in what order they will call witnesses. Sometimes bills will be called according to seniority of its authors, while other times it’s “first come, first served” with bill authors lining up in the committee hearing to lay out their bills. Often, bills with a lot of registered witnesses will be held last, in hopes that some registered witnesses have to leave before their bill gets called.
If You Must Leave Before You Are Called
We know that testifying can require a substantial investment of your time. Not everyone will have the ability to stay at the Capitol until their name is called to testify. We all have jobs, kids, pets, or other life commitments we must tend to.
In these cases, try not to beat yourself up. This is another reason to always bring 20 copies of your testimony; you can always submit these written versions to the committee clerk if you must leave. Written testimony will still be considered by the committee and is usually read later by their office staff.
For those who do not have time to submit a verbal or written testimony, remember you can always simply state your position on a bill, also known as “dropping a card,” at a kiosk the day of the committee hearing.
Additionally, there are many other ways you can make an impact on the status of a bill during a legislative session. Sign up for updates from Equality Texas and we can help you understand which bills need your attention, what they mean for the LGBTQ community, and the best ways to influence them.
What should I bring with me?
Where to Park
Parking can be found in the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage on 1201 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, TX 78701
What to Wear
There is no formal dress code at the Capitol. Legislators and legislative staff generally wear business attire, so it always helps to look professional.