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What Oregon Legislators Need During Public Testimony


On the countdown to the 2010 Legislative Session, I offer this:

While listening to a particularly interesting Oregon Legislative Committee hearing (yes, they can be interesting), I noticed how wide-ranging the questions from Legislators were. So, I made a list of the types of information that were asked about during this single hearing:

(See also, How To Testify Before a Legislative Committee.)

1) Be prepared with detailed facts on the issue at hand – very detailed – know your subject inside and out, upside and downside. (Make sure your notes are very well organized on that laptop or in that binder. There will always be some fact you won’t remember.)

2) You may have to become a teacher on the spot, so be prepared to educate legislators, quickly and clearly. Assume legislators know nothing about how your business, agency, or program operates. Some may, but never all of them. Legislators have to cover a whole lot of ground in a very short span of time and cannot become experts in everything (nor can we!). Each Legislator is probably an expert in something, but they each get to vote on everything and need to learn fast. Really good handouts and charts may be useful, but keep Mr. Tufte mind. No eye-crossing diagrams, please! (In my world this means not assuming all legislators know how cases are adjudicated, let alone how they are filed, how litigant navigate the judicial system, how county law library system or any public library system operates, how OJD is distinct from DOJ, etc. Your business before the Legislature may be even more complex than mine.)

3) Comparisons (compare and contrast): Be prepared for questions that come from all sides of the issue. Be prepared with analogies and examples. Pretend, if you must, that you are preparing a presentation for a “town hall meeting.”

4) What other options were considered to achieve the ends you are seeking and why were those options rejected in favor or the one you are putting on the table for the Legislators to support?

5) What are the costs and benefits of your proposal – actual costs of actual service, administrative costs, benefit to whom, etc. Use real and realistic numbers, whether they are dollars or statistics, and be prepared to explain and justify them.

6) What are the opportunity costs and no-action costs, i.e. what won’t or can’t be done if time and money are spent on this project rather than on something else and what are the anticipated if not the actual results of no-action?

7) Are you prepared for good follow-up on your program/budget expenditure? For example, if the Legislators fund a study or program, will there be adequate follow-up and follow-through. Be prepared to discuss your program’s evaluation plan and timetable!

8) Align your proposed program activities and presentation with the exact language of the bill on the table.

9) Legislators are fully aware that local control is important to Oregonians, but they also know we are all on the same team – Oregon. Be prepared to address your issue(s) from all angles and perspectives.

I’m sure there is more, but this is a start. Go forth and testify! Participating in law-making, while frustrating and aggravating, can be invigorating.