Legislative hearings are held by legislative bodies (such as the U.S. Congress, a state legislature, or a city or town council) to gather information upon which to base laws.
Simulating a legislative hearing provides participants with an opportunity to gain an understanding of the purposes and procedures of such hearings, as well as the roles and responsibilities of committee members. Participants also gain experience in identifying and clarifying the ideas, interests, and values associated with the subject being discussed in the legislative hearing.
- Identify the lesson that uses a legislative hearing.
- Invite staff from the office of local legislators to assist in this lesson. Contact the local legislature, local groups, or local chapters of national organizations that have a concern about the topic of the lesson for information on the topic. Invite appropriate staff to attend class.
- Assign the following roles:
- Legislators: Five legislators is a practical number for a committee but this number may vary to meet class requirements. One legislator is designated as committee chairperson.
- Witnesses: The number and nature of the witnesses will depend upon the topic being discussed. Witnesses should represent different points of view.
- Recorder: A person is selected to keep a record of proceedings and of recommendations.
- Explain to participants the purpose of the legislative hearing and the procedures to be followed. Prepare a handout of the participant instructions for a legislative hearing if needed.
- The committee chairperson calls the legislative hearing to order, states the purpose of the hearing, and announces the order and time limits for witness testimony.
- Each witness is called to present a statement for a set amount of time, followed by questions from members of the committee.
- The chairperson is the first to question the witness followed by each of the other members of the committee. The following time limits are suggested:
- Two to five minutes for a witness statement
- Five to ten minutes for questions from the chairperson and other committee members.
- After the witnesses have been heard, the legislators on the committee review the testimony, discuss the problem, and make recommendations on what their next step(s) will be.
- Allow time for participants to prepare for the legislative hearing in accordance with their assigned roles.
- Arrange to use the hearing or committee room of a local legislative body or arrange to have a table for the legislators, a desk for the recorder, and a desk and/or podium for the witness in the front of your classroom.
- Arrange, if you wish, for a gavel and for a nameplate with the participants’ names and their roles.
- Debrief the activity in stages:
- Discuss the facts and arguments presented on the topic.
- Discuss participant views of the activity itself.
- Discuss any comments by the resource persons.
- Discuss any questions the participants offer.