Giving Public Comment
Public hearings are one of the best ways for the public to engage in the legislative process. Anytime a committee is preparing to vote on a bill, a public hearing will be held. This is an opportunity for individuals and organizations to tell their senators and representatives how a particular bill might impact their lives, for better or for worse. During the 2021 legislative session, public comment can be given in-person at the Capitol or remotely. It’s important to remember that legislators work for the people and want to hear what you have to say! Use the process and tips below to help get started.
Tips for crafting a public comment:
- Prepare your comment ahead of time. Make sure you practice it, and that it is clear and concise (around 2 minutes). Try not to be looking down at your notes so you can make eye contact with the legislators while you speak
- Greet the committee. Begin by greeting the committee chair and the committee itself. Next, introduce yourself by first and last name, including the organization you are representing, if applicable. Be sure to spell your last name.
- Take a stance. Clearly state your stance on the specific bill and why you support or oppose it.
- Discuss Impacts. Get more specific on the bill’s potential impacts if it were passed, referencing specific elements of the bill as necessary. Here’s where you can use your knowledge or a personal story to sway legislators.
- Conclude and Reiterate. Close your comment with a reiteration of the bill’s impact and a clear ask for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. Thank the chair and committee members, and remind them that you are available for questions only if you are comfortable answering questions (see note below).
Not the public speaking type? You can also submit written testimony which is shared with legislators before a vote. Visit the MT legislature site and click on the committee hearing for that particular bill. Try to do this a couple days before the hearing is scheduled to make sure your comment is read. The same tips listed above still apply!
Example of Public Comment:
Bill HB 543, which says “all college students must present a valid Montana driver’s license in order to register to vote and cast their vote in the state of Montana” and “college students aren’t allowed to vote absentee or by mail.”
Example Public Comment:
Good afternoon Chair Skees and members of the committee. My name is Jane Sanders, spelled S-A-N-D-E-R-S, and I’m here on behalf of Forward Montana. Forward Montana is the largest civic engagement organization in the state — we work to engage and mobilize young Montanans to participate in all aspects of democracy.
I oppose HB 543 bill because Montana students, who play a significant role in Montana’s economy, deserve representation in our state. There are many reasons why students, who are eligible to vote in Montana after living here for 30 days, would not be able to present a valid Montana license. Time constraints, lack of transportation. Many college students do not have cars and therefore have no reason to get a driver’s license.
If this bill were to pass, students who are studying abroad, who have been displaced due to COVID, or are traveling for any other reason during election time will also be unable to vote. The majority of Montanans vote by mail and there is no reason students should be treated any differently.
HB 543 is an effort to silence Montana students and is deeply unconstitutional. I urge you to vote no. Thank you for your time. I am available to answer any questions should you have any.
Note: If you choose to be available for questions, anticipate questions that may be asked of you, (e.g. where did you get that statistic?) and prepare answers. Make sure you are able to stay on the line for the duration of the bill’s hearing and if a question is asked of you, answer in this way:
- Legislator: Mr. Chair, I have a question for Jane Sanders.”
- Chair: “Question for Jane Sanders.”
- You: “Yes, Mr. Chair and Rep. ____.”
- Legislator: “Mr. Chair, Jane Sanders, my question is _____. Mr Chair.”
- You: “Mr. Chair, Rep. ____. Thank you for the question. My answer is ____. Thank you. Mr. Chair”