Providing public testimony at a DC Council hearing is one of the most effective ways of communicating with the legislators of the District of Columbia.
You can testify in your personal capacity or on behalf of a community or organization you represent. Whether you are a parent, caregiver, student, educator or community member, this guide will help you understand the basics of testifying before Council, and how you can make your voice heard to encourage change.
Step 1: Request to Testify
Information about the upcoming hearings will include:
● Date, time and room number of the hearing
● Name, email address and telephone number of the person to contact to sign up to testify or a link to sign up online
● Deadline by which to sign up (normally 2 business days before the hearing)
It is critical that you sign up to testify by the deadline stated. To request interpretation (in ASL or any other language) you must notify the Council 5 days in advance of the hearing. The earlier you sign up, the higher you will be on the witness list, and the sooner you will testify on the day of the hearings.
Step 2: Prepare Your Testimony
These are the elements you should include in your testimony
- Recognize the Chair/Be Respectful. It is always good to recognize the Chair of the Committee of the Whole or Committee, as well as other Councilmembers who are present. Speak respectfully, even if you disagree with the government action.
- Introduce Yourself. Your testimony should start with a simple introduction that includes your name, title, the organization you represent, and the mission of that organization. If you are a DC resident, it is useful to mention the Ward you live in and the school your children attend. This lets the Council know how you have experience (personal, professional or other) with the issue being discussed.
- Where Applicable, State the Bill Name and Bill Number. State the name of the bill, legislation, or issue on which you are going to offer testimony.
- State the Issue. The main body of your testimony should include how the issue or legislation directly or indirectly affects you, your family, your community, your job, etc.
- Credit. Remember to praise staff members, agencies, or other individuals or organizations with whom you have worked to ensure that the Councilmembers understand your commitment to the process.
- State the Action You Believe Council Should Take. Be clear and concise when asking the Council to take action on a piece of legislation or issue: “We ask that the Council approve/oppose/reexamine the legislation,” along with a general statement on your willingness to work on the legislation so that it is something you or your
organization can ultimately support.
- Practice. You should practice your testimony by reading it out loud and timing how long it takes. Individuals generally get 3 minutes to testify, while those representing organizations or schools get 5 minutes.
Remember that your purpose is not just to communicate but to persuade. Accurate facts and figures are important, but so are real-life anecdotes that illustrate impact and build empathy. You may not always have enough time to say everything you want, however you may prepare a longer written version of your testimony for the record, while reading a shorter version for the hearing.
Step 3: Testify
- Arrive on Time – Arrive at least 5 to 10 minutes prior to the start of the hearing. You do not need to present a photo ID to enter the John A. Wilson Building. When there is a long list of witnesses, you might want to check the live stream of the hearing to estimate when you should leave to get to the hearing. Be prepared to spend a good couple of hours in the hearing room. While you wait for your turn, you can work, read, knit (yes, we’ve seen it!) but we recommend that you listen. Gauging your audience and listening to other concerns and point of views will inform your testimony and make it even better.
- Bring Copies. Bring at least 13 copies for circulation to the Councilmembers and hand them to the committee assistant as soon as you arrive. This also notifies them you are there.
- Standard Procedure. The committee chair follows the order of speakers listed on the agenda that is circulated at least 24 hours before the proceeding. A committee chair may schedule government officials first to promote a status report to the public, or government officials may be scheduled at the end of the proceeding so that they may hear and respond to public comments. A committee chair may also have similar organizations testify together. At the beginning of the hearing, the Councilmembers present will make statements. When it is your turn to testify, your name will be called by the committee chair. Often you will be at the witness table with three or four other
- Question and Answer Period. After all of the witnesses at the table have given their testimony, the committee chair or Councilmembers may ask questions to elicit more information or clarification. Be specific. Never use this time to read more testimony. If you do not know the answer to a question it is perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t have the answer with me, Councilmember but I am happy to provide the answer to your staff as soon as I can.”
- Language translators and sign language interpreters can be provided if you contact the committee at least five business days in advance of the hearing.
- If you miss your turn, you can let the committee assistant know and hope they can slot you in, or, depending on the committee chair, you might be allowed to testify at the end of the list of witnesses. If for whatever unexpected reason you cannot make it to the hearing, you can submit written testimony within 5 days from the date of the hearing. Please note that although written testimonies are part of the record, they are not nearly as effective as oral testimonies as oral testimonies also are streamed live and watched by many across the Wilson building and our city.