Civics Class Time!
We hope all of you plan to testify this legislative session and in future sessions. You may want to support an incredible piece of policy, or you may want to say “Oh hell no, not in my state!” about a specific bill. Some people will testify on behalf of an organization and others as a civically engaged citizen. All Nebraskans are welcome to come to committee hearings and testify on any bill in the schedule. You do not need to be a policy expert. The only requirement is being a person with an opinion about the bill. The state government of Nebraska is structured in a way that requires civic engagement from Nebraskans in order to function as intended. A unicameral means there is one house of elected or appointed senators and the people are the second house.
We wanted to give you a brief overview of how the process works so you’ll be ready to go.
First, bills are introduced and posted online which you can read ahead of time. Anything underlined or crossed out represents the proposed changes. If the bill is not altering existing law, but creates brand new policy, the entire bill will be underlined. All text in the bill that is not underlined or crossed out is existing law already on the books.
Second, any Nebraskan can testify on any bill that comes before a committee. You get two to three minutes to speak and people will come up one by one in the order of proponents, opponents, and then neutral. Here’s a helpful worksheet from the legislature describing the process.
Third, you need to know that you have a right and a duty to give your testimony. If someone says something in their testimony that overlaps with your planned remarks, you are still allowed to say them. Sometimes committee chairs will ask testifiers not to repeat things other people say. This is for their convenience because hearings cannot end until everyone who wants to be heard is heard. Let us be very clear: While they may request you not to give redundant information, you are allowed to do it and they are required to listen to you. The hearing is the only time in the process that senators are required to listen to the public. For bills that are especially egregious, a long list of people testifying can be an effective form of protest. It’s easy for a senator to ignore 100 people protesting on the steps of the capitol but very difficult to ignore 100 people each speaking for 2-3 minutes in a public hearing.
- If you are going to testify in person, you do not need to submit written testimony. You also do not need to register in advance.
- Senators may ask you questions after you give your testimony.
- Everything you say will become public record
- Bills are usually heard in the order they are listed on the schedule, BUT that could change without notice. Be there at 1.30pm just in case.
- It is customary to have 12 printed copies of your prepared remarks, but that is not a requirement.
- You may have handouts for the committee members in addition to your spoken remarks. You will want to bring 12 copies of any handout.
- Signs are not allowed in the legislature nor are clapping, booing, or other audience responses to testimony.
- You may wear clothes with messaging or logos to represent ideas or organizations you support.
- Your voice is important. If you have something to say, this is your chance to be heard on the record.
Here’s what will happen the day of your hearing. You’ll go to the assigned room for the committee by 1.30pm. There is a sheet of paper by the door where Nebraskans may record their position on the bills of the day. If you plan to speak, you do not need to fill out this sheet as your position will be clear in your testimony. Once the hearing starts, the first bill number will be called and the proposing senator will come up to the table and give opening remarks. The committee may ask the proposing senator some questions. Next, the committee chair will ask for proponents. Typically, a lobbyist will want to speak first but there isn’t an official order. Once everyone has had a chance to be a proponent, the chair will ask for opponents, then finally, neutral testimony. When you testify, there will be three lights on the table. Green, yellow, and red. As your time runs out, the yellow, then red light, will turn on. The committee may ask you questions or thank you for your testimony and dismiss you.
If you are unable to come to Lincoln or the hearing, you may send written testimony to the chair of the committee. We recommend sending your testimony to the other committee members and your own senator. Be sure to include the following things in the first and last paragraph when submitting written testimony: your name, your position (example – I oppose/support bill LB…), bill number, your address, and that you would like your letter to be part of the official testimony. **You must submit written testimony by 5pm the previous business day to have it count in the record**
Protip: you can track up to 15 bills you care about by using this free tool: http://www.nebraska.gov/billtracker/