First of all, your testimony is important and has an impact. Trust me on this. I have served in public office on both the state and county level for 16 years, and I can say without hesitation that your testimony is important. While testimony delivered in person is preferred, the reality is that the vast majority of testimony is delivered via email. It is easy really, but there are six basic points that can make a world of difference as to the effectiveness of the message.
The “hot topics,” those bills or proposed laws that are the most significant and thus the most controversial, often can generate hundreds and sometimes thousands of pieces of testimony.
In politics and in life, people are busy. Do you really think that legislators read all 480 pieces of testimony that come into their office on a particular piece of legislation? Do you think that even their staff reads each and every one?
The answer, of course, is no. It is an impossible task, but still incredibly important for citizen advocates to take the time to submit that very same testimony that few will read. I repeat, trust me on this. Your testimony, even if unread, is important. Volume matters.
#1) Which leads to the importance of the subject line. While each and every testimony might not be read in its entirety, you can be sure each is at least “skimmed” and categorized as “support, oppose and comments/amendments.” The subject line is everything!
It is critically important that two items ALWAYS be put in the subject line: The bill # (HB1234 or SB4321) AND the words “Support or Oppose or Comments/Amendments.” “Support Intent of HB1234 With Comments/Amendments” is also commonly used when someone supports the basic purpose of the bill, but is concerned about various provisions as they are currently written.
But, the subject line must contain the bill # and a clear indication of whether your testimony is in support or opposition. Legislators and their staff are extremely busy and will not take the time to review your entire testimony, trying to figure out which bill you are testifying on and whether or not you are for or against it.
#2) It kills me to have to state the obvious, but it is also immensely important that you include your name and at least the town or general area where you live. There is no shortage of email testimony that is submitted from email addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org and does not list the person’s actual name or address.
Honestly, it helps to be taken seriously if you have an email address that reflects someone who is part of mainstream society. If you want to be taken seriously, it is important to keep your purple mohawk hidden!
#3) For all testimony, there is a hierarchy of importance, and highest on this list is a person who lives in the district of a legislator who sits on the committee (especially the Chair) that will be voting on the issue. So, it is important to STATE THE TOWN OR AREA IN WHICH YOU LIVE IN YOUR TESTIMONY.
The actual content of the testimony of individuals is less important than the three items listed above. If you state clearly your position (oppose or support), your name and where you live — the legislator then has the basic information needed to judge community sentiment. And, while some legislators will argue with me on this point, community sentiment is the most important element involved in making a political decision.
#4) However, yes it is also a good idea to include a few points of substance that support your basic conclusion to support or oppose. But it is not necessary to write a lengthy dissertation, or to extensively expound upon the intricacies of the subject matter. If you are an “expert in the field” or otherwise have genuine value to add by all means please do so, and include attachments and/or links to resources that might be useful. But for most citizen advocates, a single page of testimony sticking to the basics is enough.
#5) For the policy wonks and those who truly understand the subject matter, the offering of specific amendments is important. If you possess the expertise to offer specific changes to the language in the bill that will improve it, please do so and mark it clearly: Suggested Amendment (and state the suggested new language). Remember, most bills are “works in progress” and will undergo extensive amendments during the review process. Your suggestions if they add value and are presented clearly, may very well be utilized.
But for most citizen advocates and regular residents who simply want to make a difference, submitting basic testimony in support or opposition and stating the basics will suffice.
#6) The essential online tool for testimony submission can be found at https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Yes, you have to enter your email address and “log in,” but the rest is easy! Please take a moment, embrace the citizen advocate within you, and start today getting more involved in the legislative process!
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.