So You Want to Attend a Hearing
Did you know that you can testify in Jefferson City at a Missouri House or Senate hearing? Attending hearings and providing testimony is one of the best ways to make a difference and practice active citizenship. During a hearing you get to speak to the legislators making the decisions, no more yelling at the TV or sadly sighing reading the news on your smartphone. Before bills are placed on the House or Senate calendar, they are initially read and referred to committees that deal with topics relating to the legislation. For example, HJR 20, mentioned above, was referred to the Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources committee in the Senate after its second reading.
During hearings legislators on the committee hear testimony in opposition of and in support of the legislation in question from citizens, concerned groups, and others. Some testimony is given by individuals or groups with knowledge or experience dealing with the legislation and they testify just for informational purposes without declaring whether they support or oppose the bill. You can find hearing times and locations by going to senate.mo.gov under hearings and house.mo.gov under hearings. Sometimes hearing times and locations change, so it's a good idea to check up on the status of a bill hearing when making a Capitol visit.
If you decide to attend a hearing, make a game plan for when you will leave home, where you will park (there are numerous free lots around the Capitol, signs will indicate if parking is reserved) and where the hearing is taking place. Generally hearings in house committees are located in a room on the house side of the Capitol and likewise senate hearings are on the senate side, however joint committee hearings involve legislators from both houses and could be located on ether side of the Capitol building. Think about what you want to say and how you will present yourself. You will be asked for written testimony in committee. Writing out what you want to say beforehand will help you remember the points you want to make and give you something to give to the committee so you aren't having to remember what you were wanting to say and write all your points in the hearing room. There is no strict dress code to attend a hearing, however business casual dress and good hygiene may lend you more respect when speaking to the committee. You will also have to provide your name and affiliations if you are coming on the behalf of a group.
If you want to attend a hearing the main thing to remember is not to be too nervous! It's often said and maybe a bit hard to believe on occasion, but legislators are people too. If you make a case and state why you care about something, it makes a difference. Legislators are used to seeing lobbyists and the same people continually coming in at hearings, so new faces and young people attending to speak turns heads and can make a big difference.