Testimony Tips for Oregon Legislature Committees

Alan Journet; alan@socan.eco 541 – 500 – 2331 / 541-301-4107

 Oral versus Written Testimony

Historically, oral testimony had to be delivered in the committee room in the Capitol in Salem. However, a combination of the COVID experience and Capitol construction mean that the video option is now available. Thus, we can now testify from the comfort of our own home and from across the state – giving rural and busy Oregonians a greater opportunity to engage.

In general, oral testimony will be limited to 2 or 3 minutes, depending often on how many individuals have signed up to testify and how long has been allocated to the item.   Written testimony, on the other hand, is not limited in length, though brief and concise documents are more likely to be read by busy legislators and staff.  A common tactic is to submit lengthier written testimony and then summarize and /or refer to that testimony in oral remarks.  In many cases, the main value to testimony is to register one’s position for or against a bill with personal or data-driven / evidence -based reasons for that position.  Staff are often simply counting the number of comments they receive for or against to develop a sense of where the public sentiment falls on a bill.  However, there are certainly times when lengthier detailed testimony and arguments for or against are valuable.  If we can make the case that we are an expert on the subject of a bill, the lengthier testimony is definitely justified.  Multiple signatures on the same letter probably count as one letter, so it’s probably better to have multiple individuals each submit their own letter – preferably not the same letter.

Some tips:

Whether oral or written, start testimony with the following salutation: “Chair Doe and members of the XXX committee:”  Committee membership can be found on the Oregon Legislative Information System (OLIS) at https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/. See ‘What’s An OLIS?

Oral testimony: Custom suggests that we start oral testimony by identifying who we are and where we live and identifying the bill about which we wish to comment and stating clearly whether we support or oppose it.  This results in there being no doubt in anyone’s mind where we stand.  I have seen and heard testimony where it was difficult to know this even after 2 – 3 minutes of talking.

This should be followed by the reasons for that position.  Personal stories are probably better than data; the latter can probably better be presented in the written testimony (where citation of source or sources can be included) and your targets can re-read and review for clarity.   If engaging in both oral and written testimony, note that the oral testimony can be much shorter than the written testimony; it is not necessary for the written and oral testimony to be identical.

Written testimony:  It’s probably not necessary to start by identifying who you are (unless you represent an organization) since that, presumably, will be included with your signature. Written testimony  can be submitted ahead of the committee meeting and within 48 hours after the meeting opens.  Via OLIS it is possible to submit testimony directly, either by uploading a pdf or entering text (by copying and pasting if you wish). Be aware that written testimony will be publicly available so choose your comments and write accordingly.  One unfortunate feature is that testimony does not follow a bill from committee to committee, so when a bill mover – for example to Ways and Means, it is appropriate to submit your testimony reworked for that committee.  Most bills will pass through Ways and Means, when they are generally assigned to one of the sub-committees.

Some legislators (though certainly not all) do not pay attention to input they receive from Oregonians who are not their constituents.  When contacting a committee in writing, it is potentially worthwhile to stress that as committee members, they represent the chamber and thus all Oregonians, so you are a constituent.

As bills pass through a committee, they may appear on the agenda of several meetings.  This can include a Hearing where invited testimony only is heard, a Public Hearing where the public are invited to contribute oral and/or written testimony, and a Work Session when the committee doesn’t consider testimony but discusses, considers amendments, and votes.  If, as a last resort, you wish to contact committee members after the Public Hearing deadline, it will be necessary to contact the members individually.  Committee membership and member contact information is available at OLIS (see What’s An OLIS).