How to Testify in Topeka is our guide for Kansans who want to have their voices heard in Topeka. You don't have to be a politician, or part of an advocacy organization. As a Kansan, your voice should be heard in the Statehouse.
You know what should be on your bucket list but probably isn’t? Testifying before a committee in the Kansas Legislature!
Why should it be on your bucket list? A few reasons:
- You’re a citizen. You deserve to have your voice heard.
- You have opinions, ideas, experiences, and expertise. When you share those with our legislators you enlarge their understanding of the world, and thus improve our state’s democracy.
- It will make you feel fabulous and empowered. You know that feeling of frustration you feel all the time about the news? Testifying is something that will make you feel LESS frustrated.
- It is an excuse to go to Topeka and see our beautiful capitol building.
- It is free, and the popcorn in the capitol is cheap and delicious.
We know you’re convinced now, but you have a job, and responsibilities, and Topeka is REALLY far away for you. There is still an awesome option for you! You can submit written testimony. It’s just like in-person testifying, but even easier!
Figure out the basics:
Identify the House or Senate Bill that you feel strongly about. Know the number. House bills always start with “HB” and Senate bills always start with “SB”. The numbering system starts over every year, so you must be careful when Googling, because sometimes old bills come up when you’re looking for this year’s bill. The most reliable site is the legislature’s website, which is http://www.kslegislature.org. There you can find a list of all of the bills that are pending for this session.
(Don't forget our KS Legislative Tracker, for quick links to important bills)
Once you know the bill number, look for the committee that is going to hear testimony about the bill. Usually this information can be found under the “Current Sponsor” tab. Then you can look at that committee’s page and the agenda they have posted. If the bill you’re interested in isn’t listed, you can call the committee’s secretary (the number is on the website of the committee) and ask when the committee will be accepting/hearing testimony about that issue.
Writing the testimony:
Once you have a bill, a committee, and a date, you can write your testimony. Even if you’re going to testify in person, you also have to submit a written version! The written version is typically in the form of a letter (Word has templates for letter formats if you want to keep it easy). Most often, people identify themselves and describe why they care about the issue in the first paragraph, as well as whether they are a proponent or an opponent of the legislation. In the second paragraph, they provide examples of why they have their particular stance. Many people share a story, or some facts, or a perspective in the second paragraph. Typically, there is a summary in the third paragraph that reiterates the recommendation. Sometimes testimony is very short, and sometimes it is very long. Legislators are more likely to read it if it’s articulate, reasonable, and well-written.
An optional outline of your testimony letter:
Introduction with proponent/opponent statement
Support in the form of examples (stories, facts, perspectives, etc.)
Summary and closing
Once you’ve written your testimony you have to submit it. This part varies by committee. Some make testimony due three or four days in advance of the hearing, others make it the day before. Some only require you to email it, others require you to submit anywhere between 10 – 50 paper copies. You have to check the committee’s website or call the secretary to figure this part out, or you can email or call a legislator who sits on the committee. If you must submit paper copies and you don’t live in Topeka, you can call your representative’s administrative assistant and ask if they’ll print them for you. Often, especially with big issues, advocacy groups collect testimony and will print and submit for you. You can always print what you need at home or your local print store and then mail them to the capitol, too.
Always, though, you have to email your testimony to the secretary of the committee, and in the body of the email tell them if you plan to testify in person as well. If you tell them you will be there in person, they will add your name to the docket. Then you go to the committee hearing, and at some point, they will call your name. Usually prior to that the chairperson of the committee has announced whether there is time limit for speakers. When they call your name, you go to the microphone and speak for as long as you’d like and/or are allowed. Then you get to joyfully cross that off your bucket list! But don’t be fooled – it’s fun. You’ll be back!