There is no better way to impact an issue than testifying in front of the legislature. Whether it is the DC Council, Congress, or another state's legislature, speaking out in front of lawmakers allows them to hear your perspective and engage on an issue.
In the District, literally one voice can make a difference. In 2020, one MSDC physician testified on legislation where he was the only public witness to testify. Based on his comments and support, the bill passed and became law. When MSDC says your testimony can help, it is no exaggeration.
It may be intimidating to think about going before a lawmaker and speaking out on an issue. MSDC created this page to give you a few tips and tricks to help your time be a success. While the majority of content focuses on the District Council, at the end we also have some information on testifying before Congress.
You can also read a TL:DR version of this page here.
Basics to know about testifying before the District Council
- Hearings are posted in advance to LIMS, the Council's legislative site.
- Everyone testifying is expected to submit a written statement in advance. If the hearing is in-person, you are usually asked to bring 15 paper copies of your testimony. The submitted testimony may be exactly the same as your verbal testimony, or a longer, more detailed version.
- You are asked to submit your intent to testify in advance - check the hearing notice on who to tell and how.
- Usually hearings are done in panels - 4 or so people testify, Committee members ask questions (or not), and you may leave
- You are always asked to stay within your timeframe for testifying (3-5 minutes, depending), and depending on the length of the hearing that time may be strictly enforced.
- Be prepared to answer questions about your testimony. And be prepared to say, "I'll get back to you" if you don't have an answer.
Examples of how to testify before the Council
Council hearings are recorded, so we have videos of MSDC members testifying in the past. Below are examples of how to testify. Each video is linked to the Council archive site, with a time stamp to advance to in order to see the testimony. Below each link we give analysis of why this testimony is a good "how to".
Dr. Laurie Duncan testifying at DC Health 2020 Oversight Hearing 2.20.20 (starting at around two hour mark)
- Dr. Duncan came in with a specific item to share - physician health and addiction is a public health crisis.
- She engaged with Chair Gray - he asked her questions about previous testimony and she tied it into her specific issue.
- The panel went long but she continued to politely support her issue.
Dr. Sahil Angelo testifying on the Insulin Affordability Amendment Act 10.28.20 (starting at the 28:25 mark)
- He made it personal - he discussed the impact of insulin prices on patients. He made the science relatable.
- Notice the physician attire - dress for the part!
- He came prepared with information and statistics, and brought questions back to those points.
Dr. Carla Cargill Sandy on Expedited Partners Therapy Act 10.30.13 (starting at the 38 minute mark)
- Dr. Sandy addresses and thanks the Councilmembers directly.
- She establishes her bona fides and brings relevant statistics.
- It's hard to tell that she's reading her testimony, because she is speaking from her knowledge. But she feels comfortable referencing written text to cite factual evidence.
Dr. Angus Worthing on the Access to Biosimilars Amendment Act 11.13.19 (starting at the 2:34:00 mark)
- He personalizes a complex issue - at least complex to non-physicians. He explained to the Chair why this issue impacts his constituents.
- When a fellow panelist pushes back on his argument and the Chair asks to respond, he explains where compromise works and where he would hesitate to compromise.
Testifying before Congress
While Congress is a larger legislature (actually two bodies of one legislature) with its own rules, the basics still apply when preparing to testify:
- Always tell the truth and be ready to say "I'll get back to you" if you do not know.
- Do your homework and come prepared to talk about the hearing's topic. Too much research is better than too little.
- Make sure you know the hearing's structure and rules.
- Personalize your testimony if appropriate. Remember, if it is appropriate to connect the content of the issue to a relevant story, do it.
For more information, here are a few informative articles.