Category Archives: Background

Committee Witness Forms

How to Fill Out a Witness Form for Texas Legislative Committees

As of 2014, anyone wishing to testify at a public hearing of the Texas Legislature is required to fill out a form. The House of Representatives has gone to an electronic registration system that is explained online at . The witness must be within reach of the Capitol’s wifi system to  access the registration site via one’s own iPad or use the provided kiosks. The registration process is uniform for all House committees.

Screenshot from House Committee Registration Video

Screenshot from House Committee Registration Video

In the Senate, paper or cards are still used for witness affirmation forms, and they can vary from committee to committee or even from hearing to hearing. This example is from the Committee on Health and Human Services.

Sample Senate Witness Form

Sample Senate Witness Form

(This image was prepared by Jessica Luther, and the original is on her website).

The committee minutes will reflect whether the witness registered for, against, or on a bill. As a courtesy to the bill’s author, a person who supports the bill but has concerns or opposes certain provisions should register for or on the bill.

Written testimony will be included in the hearing record, and some committees are making this testimony available online as well, so witnesses are well advised to submit written testimony. This testimony can include pictures, drawings, charts, or other exhibits, but should not include any copyrighted material or personal information such as email addresses.

For hearings where many people are expressing similar opinions, checking “registering position, not testifying’ will usually accomplish the witness’s goal and save time in the hearing.

It is very important that the name and information be written legibly. The Committee Chair will call the name written on the card, so if pronunciation is not obvious, the witness should let the committee staff know. Also, these cards are entered manually into a database, so if a witness makes multiple appearances, it is helpful if the information entered is consistent from card to card.

As a final note, witness forms are typically available only the day of the hearing, at the hearing. Witnesses should arrive at the hearing in plenty of time to fill out and submit witness cards.





Hearings Serve Many Audiences

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Policymaking committees are subsets of larger official bodies such as state legislative chambers, the U.S. House or Senate, city councils, or public commissions. Drawn from the larger bodies, their members address specific administrative or policy issues and make recommendations about new legislation or ordinances and modifications of pending measures. Often, policymaking committees convene public hearings to further deliberations among members, gather information, and give public visibility to the issues at hand.

At first glance, policy hearings may seem to involve only the members of the panel and whoever happens to show up to the official session. That may once have been the case, but current information technologies have opened up many new possibilities to reach distinct audiences and sets of participants in various formats. Hearing materials and proceedings can now be communicated in various formats to panel members, attendees, and citizens watching from afar.

Serving Panelists Who Prefer Paper or Electronic Copies
Committee members who arrive at a hearing bring different levels of background and preparation. Formerly, preparatory materials were provided on paper, possibly in binders holding hefty volumes of news reports, articles, background analyses, and the texts of any actionable items in front of the panel. Today, however, many policy-formulating bodies are moving away from this paper-based approach, reducing the expense of purchasing, storing, reproducing, and disposing of physical copies. They are creating and distributing hearing documents electronically, using the devices now widely available to store and display documents in real time for “paperless hearings.” Current software allows electronic documents to be written on or marked up in much the same fashion as paper documents once were, so policymaking bodies can adapt their systems of record retention to include iterations of electronic documents.

A fully paperless approach has not yet arrived, however, because we are in a transitional period that requires accommodation for committee members who prefer the printed page and those who embrace the new electronic possibilities. The need to accommodate both types becomes more pronounced when certain committee members are not physically present for a hearing and have to participate by conference call, Skype, or watching the hearing on a screen. For some, physical copies may have to arrive by mail in advance, while others can use electronic copies as they also participate by electronic means.

Informing the People in the Room
Hearing attendees who are not committee members or staff tend to fall into three main categories – some of whom want announcements or paper handouts, and others of whom can use advance or on-the-spot electronic documents that can be inexpensively disseminated.

  • Some attendees have participated in hearings before and are familiar with operating procedures, committee members, and topics under consideration. They are likely to want to know the agenda, how long the hearing may last, and whether the order of discussion could vary from the planned agenda.
  • Another set of attendees are new to hearings. They are best served with introductory remarks or handouts describing basic information, such as whether there is a lunch or dinner break as well as how to find the bathrooms and what to do in case of emergency.
  • Also in the hearing room are people who want to offer testimony to the committee. They are likely to be focusing mentally on what they want to say and will need guidance and reminders about how to sign up to testify, any rules associated with offering testimony, and when they might appear in the order of witnesses. Some may be in the room even if no testimony is taken, as they are unaware that some hearings function without testimony. These people will probably have questions about when and how the public can have input.

Welcoming Old and New Media Reporters
Reporters from “old media” – wire services, newspapers, radio and television stations – are likely to be accredited and familiar with how hearings unfold. They will want more access than the public usually gets in order to have the best camera angles, microphone placement, and posthearing interviews. To do their work, they may need and expect specialized equipment (such as multi-boxes and raised platforms).

Scholars Strategy Network banner“New media” refers to online-only electronic news generators, such as bloggers, podcasters, and online content providers. These kinds of news outlets are much harder to define without resorting to Internet searches or metric reports, but they often have a reach that exceeds traditional media and can get the word out very quickly. A committee holding a public hearing is well advised to prepare for – and accord the same courtesies to – new and old media reporters, even if traditional outlets get some priority because of established ties and routines.

Meeting Citizen Needs and Preferences
Many committees now stream their hearings over the Internet. While some hearings are provided only in audio or time-delayed formats, real-time video is widely available via the Internet or telephone and should be considered the desirable standard. Of course, hearings can also be archived to provide later access. When viewable versions are allowed, acoustics and visuals are paramount. Committee members should be easily recognizable; readable nameplates or superimposed names should be visible; and URLs offered for viewers who want to find more information about members.

At times, members of the public want to broadcast hearings themselves using handheld cameras and online services like Ustream. Such spontaneous live-streams can seem preferable for various reasons. Commentaries can be provided online; official sources may not be fully trusted; and certain audiences may want dedicated ways to view proceedings not available to all. Legislative committees and public commissions have an obligation to accommodate these citizen efforts, as long as they do not obstruct the rights of other legitimate audiences or participants. What is more, attention must be paid to the special needs of people with hearing, sight, or speech impairments. Currently available technologies make it readily possible to provide solutions, such as video captioning or set-ups for disabled witnesses to testify effectively.

This article was originally published as a brief by the Scholars Strategy Network in April 2014.



A petition, whether on paper or online, is a tool with particular uses.

You need to know what you want to accomplish before you decide if a petition is the right tool or not.

If you want to influence the passage or failure of a particular bill or piece of legislation, a petition is not the right tool. Rather, you should focus your efforts on visiting with your elected officials. Using a petition for this goal is waste of time and effort.

If you want to generate interest and identify like-minded people, a petition is a good tool. Be aware that if you sign a petition, in all likelihood your email and other information will be collected (the industry term is “harvested”) and you will be contacted later. If you have privacy concerns, find out the petition organizer’s privacy policy before signing anything.



Bonus tips: if you organize a petition, aim it at the people who can do something about the problem. For example, don’t petition the White House if your concern is at the state legislative level. Also, if you are not a constituent, the impact of your petition will probably be reduced.

From 2010 to 2013 I was responsible for a technology initiative that saved thousands of taxpayer dollars, concept-proved an instant feedback loop for public hearings, debuted the use of live geospatial data in a legislative hearing, and produced the first mobile app of any state legislative committee in the country. This blog is a chronicle and discussion of that effort along with current reflections on bringing the Government and the Populace closer together.