Remote Public Participation in Committee Proceedings

5/4/2021

internet technology communication

 Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic posed many new challenges for state lawmakers this past year, not least among them: how to keep “the people's house” open to the public, as some state capitol buildings were closed and some legislative chambers met remotely. This page, and the 50-state table below, examines the approaches legislatures have used to integrate public participation. 

Although all 50 states live-streamed legislative floor proceedings prior to the pandemic, and many also offered webcasts of committee meetings, in 2020 and 2021, many more legislative chambers began using those practices for on-demand viewing.

Legislatures also worked to find more ways to promote interactive citizen participation in committee proceedings, which in normal times are a primary way citizens can participate in the legislative process. Most legislatures provided email addresses for legislators, committee chairs or committee staff so that citizens could submit written comments or testimony by email. An increasing number began developing online forms for people to submit electronic testimony or to register to testify—sometimes still in person but allowing for more orderly and socially distanced waiting—other times live via video- or audio-conferenced meetings. Some states also added online mechanisms for the public to register an opinion on a bill.

Several states provided these kinds of online forms prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the details of which are provided below, followed by a 50-state table with links to examples of online forms or other features that allow the public to participate in the legislative process.

Many states in 2020 and 2021 adopted or introduced bills and resolutions related to legislative rules or procedures, including measures providing for remote proceedings. The examples provided on this page are not all-inclusive, in that the process might vary even within the same type of chamber, depending on the type of proceeding. For example, some states may distinguish between committee hearings and public hearings in their rules and may adopt slightly different rules or procedures for each.

Though not noted below, some legislatures make available email addresses of committee chairs or committee staff, and some have created email addresses specific to individual committees (e.g., Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nebraska). Other legislatures provide opportunities for in-person testimony and participation. 

Please note that some links provided below may be active only immediately prior to a committee hearing, but are provided below to note that the option is available. Lastly, some legislatures have not yet convened for 2021 sessions (see session calendar) and information may not yet be available.

For related information, see NCSL’s Legislative Webcasts and Broadcasts and Bill Tracking and Subscription Services on Legislative Websites.

Online Request to Speak or Submit Testimony Forms

State legislatures are making it easier for citizens to testify at committee proceedings by creating online sign-in sheets. This online process also makes it easier for committee chairpersons to manage the committee process. Some states provide the opportunity to request to speak and also register an opinion on a bill or to submit written testimony electronically. Among the earliest states to offer online request to speak features prior to COVID-19 were Arizona, the Florida House and Senate, Hawaii, Illinois, the Texas House, North Carolina and Washington, some of which are described in more detail below or linked in the following table.

For more than a decade, the Arizona Legislature has had an online Request To Speak feature for those who want to testify in House and Senate committees. Prior to 2020, citizens wanting to speak would first register at kiosks located outside of committee rooms at the Capitol; now, they register online. Once registered, they submit their request to speak to a committee and about a particular bill. The system allows committee chairpersons to have electronic access to a list of names of those signed up to speak in favor of or against a particular bill. Individual comments from lobbyists and citizens are available to view on the website, and those in favor of or in opposition to bills are also listed.

The Hawaii Legislature’s Submit Online Testimony feature, which first came online in 2009, operates somewhat differently. It can be accessed from any location using the “Submit Testimony” icon on the home page of the legislature’s website or from bill information web pages. After clicking on the icon, citizens fill out a form to submit their written testimony on a bill electronically. The online form asks individuals whether they plan to be present at the hearing, and, if so, their names will appear on the list of those testifying. The system is limited to bills that are currently scheduled for a hearing and formally referred to a committee. The website cautions that all testimony received is posted on the legislature's website and is accessible to the public.

Online Bill Comment

Several legislatures use websites to gather constituent feedback on specific bills or special topics. States offering this feature prior to the pandemic include Alaska, Nevada, the New York Senate, Washington and Wyoming. Legislatures with bill comment features are listed in the table below.

Alaska’s Public Opinion Messaging System allows Alaskans to send a 50-word message to some or all legislators. The system matches information from voter registration lists, so citizens must enter their information exactly as it appears on their Voter Registration Card.

Nevada's online opinion poll allows citizens to submit comments about and vote for or against bills being considered. The website makes all the comments and votes on bills available on the website to view. Constituent names, addresses and other personal information are not made public, but are available to legislators so they can contact the constituent when desired. The website also has reporting features that show opinions by popularity (most votes received on a bill), by bill number, by zip code and by senate or assembly district.

The New York Senate allows the public to register and submit an 'Aye' or 'Nay' vote on legislation. Constituents also can use an online form to share views with Senators.

North Dakota's Send a Viewpoint (online since Jan. 2013), allows constituents to fill out a form with a viewpoint or suggested voting preference about a selected bill. Messages require an address so that constituent views are routed to the legislators who represent that legislative district.

The Washington Legislature's Comment on this Bill feature allows the public to select and enter a bill number, state a position, and submit comments. Citizens must have an account and submit a street address to identify their legislative district. Statistics for positions on bills and their comments are reported to legislators representing the districts identified.

The Wyoming Legislature has an Online Hotline that allows the public to leave a 140-character comment. Additional background is available here.

Table: Opportunities for Online Public Participation

The box allows you to conduct a full-text search, including a search for a state name.

Links to Opportunities for Public Participation in Remote Hearings

State

Online Registration to Testify/Request to Speak Form

Information for the Public About How to Testify Remotely

 

Guidelines for Remote Hearings/

Public Testimony

Other Opportunities for Remote Public Participation*

Alabama

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Alaska

Not found

Public Testimony Opportunities
New Tips for Testifying Remotely

Not found

Public Opinion Messages

Arizona

Request to Speak (RTS) in Committee

RTS Manual

Remote testimony information (examples from committees)

Not found

 

Arkansas

Not found

Not found

Not found

Committee Procedures and Public Access for 2021 Regular Session (in-person)

California 

Not found

Senate: Teleconferencing How-To

Not found

Assembly: Position letter portal

Colorado

Yes - Public Testimony Options (in-person, remote, written) 

Instructional video on signing up to testify and how to testify in a committee hearing remotely.

Electronic Participation in Legislative Proceedings during a Declared Public Health Disaster Emergency

 

Connecticut

Yes - On-line Testimony Registration Forms for committees are available via the Bulletin.

Information is available under the 

Public Hearings tab.

Not found

Information on how to testify in person

Delaware

House: Yes – by individual committees

House: House Committee Meetings-Instructions to Provide Public Comment Virtually & Submit Written Remarks

Not found

 

Florida

House: Yes, form for in-person testimony only; Appearance Request Form

Senate: Yes, Yes, form for in-person testimony only; Appearance Request Form

Not found

Not found

Senate: (in-person) Public Testimony Protocols for 2021 Interim Committee Weeks

Georgia

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Hawaii

Yes – login/registration required to use

Testimony and Login
Help

2021 Remote Testimony Procedures  

Additional information regarding Senate Testimony Policies and Procedures can also be found here

Idaho

Links to register to testify remotely are available on the committee agenda and on the committee webpage at the following links: Senate committeesHouse committees. 

Remote Testimony
Meeting Protocols

Not found

In-person testimony information

Illinois

Not found

Senate: Submit written testimony by email

House: Submit written testimony by email

Senate: Remote Legislative Hearing Process

Senate: Guidelines for Testifying in-person

Indiana

Yes – Appearance Form for in-person testimony.

Individuals are encouraged to fill out the appearance form online.

Not found

All public testimony will be done from a separate location within the Statehouse

Iowa

Yes – for bills in subcommittee (example)

Attendance at subcommittee meetings by lobbyists and the public is via zoom only. See agendas for zoom details.

Information is on the subcommittee notice which will be published at least the day before the subcommittee is scheduled. Members of the public may comment during the Zoom subcommittee or provide written comments on legislation via the General Assembly’s website.

Protocols for the 2021 Legislative Session

Kansas

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Kentucky

Yes - Testimony Request Form

Not found

Not found

Ways to stay connected with General Assembly action

Louisiana

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Maine

Yes - Testimony Submission Form

Public Participation in Upcoming Public Hearings

Not found

 

Maryland

Yes - Video Tutorials for MyMGA-Online Witness Signup and Testimony Upload

Not found

Not found

 

Massachusetts

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Michigan

Not found

House Committee Protocols provide for in-person and remote testimony options

Not found

General Comment/
Question Form

Minnesota 

Not found

House: Information about how to sign up to testify remotely is available for individual committees.

Senate: Members of the public may sign-up to testify by emailing individual committee staff. Members of the public may submit written testimony by emailing their written testimony.

Not found

House: COVID-19 Legislation Comment Form - to submit a comment or question about prospective emergency COVID-19 legislation.

Mississippi

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Missouri 

Senate: Witness Appearance Form (pdf)

Senate Witness Registration System
House: Submit Online Witness Testimony

House: Witness Testimony FAQ

Not found

 

Montana

Yes – Public Testimony – submit written testimony, state a position on a bill, upload testimony, request to speak via Zoom.

Have Your Say Montana

Not found

 

Nebraska

 

Public Hearings: How to share your views with senators

Written Testimony In Lieu of In-Person Testimony for Public Hearings during the 2021 Session

Submission of Online Comments

Tips for Testifying (in-person)

Nevada

Yes, scheduled committee meetings have a "Participate" icon that opens an online form to allow the public to register to attend a meeting, specify a position, request to testify, or request to submit a verbal public comment.

 

Help page in NELIS includes information about how to register to participate in committee meetings and other ways to participate.

Not found

Share Your Opinion on Legislative Bills – online form

New Hampshire

Yes - House remote sign-in sheet

Yes - Senate remote sign-in sheet

House - Public Guidance for Remote Committee Meetings

Senate - Public Guidance for Remote Committee Meetings

House - Public Guidance for Remote Committee Meetings

Senate - Public Guidance for Remote Committee Meetings

House and Senate forms allow the public to indicate support or opposition to a bill

New Jersey

Yes – Registration form for individual committees (request to testify or submit opinion on bills)

Information is provided for individual committees

Not found

 

New Mexico

Not found

Information for submitting testimony by email is provided for individual committees

Not found

 

New York

Yes – Senate: 2021 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing Witness Request

Yes – Senate: Notice to Prospective Witnesses

Not found

A Citizen's Guide to NYSenate.gov  Submit an opinion on individual bills (example)

North Carolina

Yes – Request for comment portal for certain committees

Not found

Not found

 

North Dakota

Yes – forms for individual committee hearings

How to: Written and Oral Testimony Submission and Video

Not found

 

Ohio

House – Witness information form

Not found

Not found

 

Oklahoma

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Oregon

Yes – Testimony Submission Form

Yes - Oregonians will be able to testify at every public hearing remotely

Not found

How to Participate

Pennsylvania

Not found

Information on how to submit written testimony by email available for some commissions or committees (example)

Not found

 

Rhode Island

Yes - Members of the public can request to provide verbal testimony to the committee through an online form. Written testimony may be submitted by email.

Not found

Not found

 

South Carolina

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

South Dakota

Not found

How to Participate Remotely and Information on how to submit written testimony by email available for some commissions or committees (example)

Not found

 

Tennessee

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Texas

Not found

Not found

Not found

House Witness Registration (available only at kiosks at the Capitol)

Utah

Yes - Public Comment form. This link appears on a committee website when an agenda is posted and closes one hour before meeting is scheduled to begin.

How to Provide Public Comment Remotely

Not found

 

Vermont

Not found

Information for Witnesses

Committee agendas provide email addresses for witnesses to submit handouts (example)

Not found

 

Virginia

House: Yes – Meeting Schedule Signup

 

Senate: Yes - Committee Signup - Public Comment

House: Speak website
House: Viewing House Video

House: Policy and Guidelines for Citizen Participation in Remote Meetings

House: Public comment form to provide feedback about electronic meetings.

Washington

Yes – Online forms to register to testify and to submit written testimony or comments on a bill

Participating in Committee Hearings and Bill Comments Help

Not found

 

West Virginia

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Wisconsin

Not found

Not found

Not found

 

Wyoming

The public can register for a Zoom to testify in committee by clicking the “testify” button provided on the legislature’s calendar page.

Protocol for attending a virtual committee meeting

Not found

Online Hotline Comment form for opinions on bills

Guam

Not found

Providing Live Testimony During Virtual Public Hearings

Not found

 

Virgin Islands Yes - QR form on the website opens a "Virtual Testifier Sing Up Form"      

*Some legislatures make available email addresses of committee chairs or committee staff, and some have created email addresses specific to individual committees. Other legislatures provide opportunities for in-person testimony and participation. 

Did we miss information for your state? Please contact Pam Greenberg with details. 

 

Additional NCSL Resources