Testifying

When a bill affecting TASB members is heard in a committee, it is important that the Association’s interests be represented in testimony. A TASB member’s testimony before a committee can be more important than a professional lobbyist’s, but members must be just as well-prepared as the lobbyist and follow the same rules of conduct. Of course, Governmental Relations Division staff members will alert Association members when testimony is necessary and will help members prepare testimony when they represent TASB before a committee.

Tips

  • Tell legislators what they don’t already know. Lawmakers usually know statewide significance of proposed legislation, but they may not understand how the law will affect specific school districts. Lawmakers want good evidence of what a bill will do to the people affected by it. Communications should be targeted on local impact and should be as specific as possible.
  • Provide copies of written testimony to all members of the committee, staff members, the news media, and other observers.
  • Avoid reading written testimony to members. Legislators often are unappreciative of those who read their testimony to them. You will increase your effectiveness if you provide copies of written testimony and summarize the key points.
  • Waive the opportunity to speak if several others have already said what you wanted to say, and distribute your written statement.
  • Keep your goal in mind and don’t let legislators’ questions get you off track.
  • Put key points in priority order so that if you don’t get all the time you need, you’ll at least have gotten across the main points.
  • Get the facts straight and attribute them. Giving credit to the source of the information makes you more credible and protects your credibility if the details turn out to be incorrect.
  • Keep testimony extraordinarily brief. Legislators often hear much boring, repetitious testimony, so make sure yours stands out. Be sincere. Be yourself. Don’t become emotional or be too dramatic.
  • Try to keep good eye contact with the panel, and address comments to committee members.
  • Dress on the conservative side because your appearance may be as important to some legislators as what you say and how you say it.
  • Answer questions as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer, say so or defer to a TASB staff member, who will accompany you to the committee meeting and who may have the information.
  • Always offer to get the answer or responsive information to the member or committee after the hearing.
  • Avoid a public confrontation, if you are asked a hostile question. Diffuse the hostility by remaining poised and unruffled. Even if you are confident the battle is lost before you begin, your testimony may gain respect for the Association or may educate committee members in ways that may not be apparent immediately. You also are proving that support or opposition exists and shouldn’t be ignored.
  • Be yourself. Try to relax. Your influence will be greater if you speak from the heart.