How to Testify on Bills in Concord

Adapted from a post at Leaven for the Loaf by Ellen Kolb, Cornerstone communications consultant.

Any New Hampshire resident can testify on legislative bills in Concord! When you’re informed and concerned about any issue, legislators should hear from you. Here’s a brief guide to the process. You can learn more about our legislative process and how to have a voice at Cornerstone’s “Concord 101” programs, so watch Cornerstone’s Facebook page for upcoming sessions.

Location & Parking

The State House and Legislative Office Building (LOB) are a few blocks west of I-93 exit 14 in Concord. From either direction getting off I-93, turn west (toward the golden dome, away from the Merrimack River). Go under the highway and through the next two traffic lights, then turn left onto Main Street. The State House is a block ahead on the right; the LOB is behind the State House, a block further away, on State Street.

Always allow extra time to find a parking space in downtown Concord, especially on days with House/Senate sessions or on days with hearings on high-profile bills. Read the City of Concord’s parking information; that page includes a useful map. Some spaces and garages have kiosks at which you’ll pay for parking time; those machines can take coins or credit/debit cards. If a space has a conventional meter, you’ll need quarters. 

Current rates for parking (January 2020): on-street parking is $1 per hour, and garage parking is $0.50 per hour. Maximum time varies with meter location. Tip: pay for at least two hours, even if the hearing is only scheduled for 30 minutes. That allows for late hearings and for walking time from parking spot to hearing room.

Access

For both the State House and the LOB, enter through the front door of the building. Exception: the State House wheelchair ramp is on Park Street, entering the building on its north side. 

There is no security screening. You may bring signs into the building as long as they’re not mounted on anything (i.e. no sticks or poles). 

There’s a pedestrian tunnel connecting the State House and LOB, with a cafeteria open to the public at the State House end.

In both buildings, there are coat racks for public use in the hallways.

Attending a Hearing

You can find out the hearing schedule for a bill you’re following by consulting the General Court (i.e. legislative) website, or you can get information from Cornerstone Action. Be sure to subscribe to Cornerstone’s legislative update emails for current information (look for signup form at the bottom of the homepage at nhcornerstone.org).

Most hearings are scheduled for the Legislative Office Building on State Street, on the first, second, or third floors. A few committees meet in on the first floor of the State House. Only about 20 public seats are available in LOB rooms; standing is permitted but not in the area where the committee is seated. Occasionally, larger rooms (and rarely, the 400-seat Representatives Hall) are used if a hearing is expected to be well-attended, but always be prepared to stand for awhile.

If you want to register your opinion on a bill but do not wish to testify

Sign the committee’s sheet on the bill. It’s usually a blue sheet for a House hearing and a white one for a Senate hearing. The sheets will be available on a table near public seating. You may see several sheets, one for each hearing scheduled that day; be sure to check the sheet’s heading for the correct bill number. Put your name, your town, and check off whether you’re supporting or opposing the bill. These sheets will become part of the public record for the bill, and your opinion counts

If you want to submit written testimony but not testify aloud 

While a single copy of your statement is sufficient, you can help the committee by bringing 21 copies for a House hearing and 10 copies for a Senate hearing. You can hand your written testimony to any committee member who will pass it to the committee clerk. Be sure your testimony at the top of the first page clearly includes your name, your town, the bill number, and whether you support or oppose the bill. You can use the format of a letter or memo addressed to the committee as a whole. Less formal handwritten statements are accepted as well.

You can email a committee before or after the public hearing. See the General Court website for contact information. If you can’t attend the hearing, an email or letter to the committee is a good way to express your opinion.

If you want to give spoken testimony, with or without supplementary written material

  • Fill out a pink card when you enter the hearing room. The cards are usually available next to the sign-in sheets described above. In addition to your identifying information, you’ll write down the bill number, whether you’re in support or opposed, and how long you estimate you’ll need to speak. 
  • It is up to the committee chair to determine how much time you’ll actually have to speak. Three to five minutes is typical. If you have extensive information for the committee, put it in written testimony, using your spoken testimony as a summary.
  • You can choose whether or not to take questions from legislators after you speak. 
  • If you have written testimony, don’t hand it in until you’re done speaking. That way, the legislators will be paying attention to you and not to your piece of paper.
  • The general rule for all communication with legislators is keep it brief, keep it clear, and remember you’re talking to a neighbor. Courtesy counts. 
  • Personal stories are more persuasive than statistics. 
  • If you have particular expertise in the subject of the bill, give your credentials when you introduce yourself at the beginning of your testimony. 

After the Hearing

The committee will vote on the bill in an executive session, which is open to the public although testimony will not be accepted. For House bills, executive sessions are usually held a week or more after the public hearing. In the Senate, the committee can vote on a bill anytime, even immediately after its public hearing. 

The committee can vote Ought to Pass (OTP) or Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). Occasionally, the vote might be Interim Study or Retain/Re-Refer.

Once the committee has made its recommendation, it’s time to contact your town/city’s state legislators (House or Senate) and urge them to vote the way you prefer: Ought to Pass if you want the bill to pass, or Inexpedient to Legislate if you want the bill to be killed.

House members have no offices, so the phone numbers they provide on the General Court site are their home or cell phones. Always keep your message brief, clear, and courteous. New Hampshire House and Senate members are essentially volunteers, earning only $100 per year, and House members don’t have staff to handle calls.

Each bill gets a vote in the full House or Senate (depending on where it originated). In New Hampshire, unlike other states, committees can’t kill bills. They can only make recommendations. Watch House and Senate calendars for a list of bills to be voted on at each House or Senate session.

Remember to thank legislators whose votes are constructive or who have helped you through the legislative process.