Tips for your Testimony in the Maryland General Assembly
We welcome you, your friends, your family, and any and all 2nd Amendment and self-defense rights supporters to testify before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. As current or potential gun owners, it's in everyone's interest to keep an eye on what our lawmakers are doing. We all know the effect atrocious gun laws have on us and the best way to prepare for what may be on the horizon is to read the bills and act!
Committee hearings set the tone for how a bill may (or may not) progress. Your voice is urgently needed here as the bills are more easily amended or sometimes squashed in committee. Testimony stays as a part of each bill for all time and committee members do remember how these hearings go. Some lawmakers have a vision of gun owners not based in reality. Educate them. Help them understand. Your testimony may very well make or break a given bill.
All current gun-related legislation is being tracked on our website with URL, tinyurl.com/guns2020. You can read the entire text of a bill, who introduced it, our position and testimony, and current bill status. Audio/Video streams and recordings are available for committee hearings there as well.
The Legislative ProcessThe Maryland General Assembly meets for 90 days each year, from January thru April and is made up of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Delegates. There are 47 Senators and 141 Delegates, respectively. Bills are introduced into each chamber for their First Reading and then referred to the committee that reflects the area of law or policy affected by the bill.
Getting to Annapolis
When coming down to Annapolis, pay attention to traffic and try to arrive early. I-97 can be finicky and parking availability is limited. Car pool with some friends if you can. Organize with your fellow supporters on social media and in forums. The more voices, the better!
The Legislative Complex Addresses:
House Office Building
6 Bladen St
Annapolis, MD 21401
Miller Senate Office Building
11 Bladen St
Annapolis, MD 21401
Paid parking is available in garages and a short walk away in downtown Annapolis, or at the nearby Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium. It is truly in your best interest to arrive early as the parking garages fill quickly. You can take a bus from the stadium into downtown for $2 cash (have exact change!). The Calvert Street Garage is free to use after 6pm. Information on the State Shuttle can be found here.
Upon entering each building of the Legislative Complex, you must pass thru a security checkpoint and a metal detector. This is very similar to a TSA checkpoint at an airport. DO NOT FORGET to remove and secure any of your knives, guns and other tools long before entering or getting anywhere close to the buildings. Make sure any bag you bring in is free of objects you wouldn't try bringing on an airplane. There is an x-ray machine and they will have you put your belongings thru it. You’ll also need to present a photo ID to the security staff when getting screened. They’ll also give you a sticker to wear. Make sure to keep it on throughout your stay.
Visiting the Committees
Most gun-related bills are introduced into the Judiciary committees of each chamber. In the House, there's the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) and in the Senate, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR). Judiciary is located in room 100 of the House Office Building and Judicial Proceedings in 2 East in the Miller Senate Office Building. Currently, the JUD is Chaired by Delegate Luke Clippinger (D) and Vice-Chaired by Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary (D). Senator William Smith (D) Chairs the JPR and Senator Jeff Waldstreicher (D) serves as the Vice-Chair. Sometimes gun-related bills find their ways into other committees. You can see all of those here by toggling between the Senate/House tabs on the left side of the page. Each committee has their own rules for the submission of testimony and whomever is chairing each committee decides the procedures for what bills are called, the order they're called in, when and who may testify, for how long, and any other conditions they deem necessary.
In the hallways close to the committee rooms, you’ll find touchscreens attached to the walls. Enter all of the requested personal information, including e-mail address and then select the bills you’re testifying on and whether or not you have a Favorable, Opposing, Favorable with Amendment, or Information Only position and whether or not you have Oral, Written, or no testimony on each bill that matters to you. If you have no testimony, you can still choose whether or not to support or oppose bills. Take your time here and be deliberate with your choices. Review your choices before hitting Submit. Once you’ve submitted, you’re all set. Stay close to the chamber door to make sure you get a good seat after they open up (usually within 10-15 minutes of the hearing start time). Be aware that you may not wear hats, bring in signs, or consume any food or drink inside of the committee rooms.
As stated, each committee has their own rules for how testimony will play out. Generally (but not always), a bill or series of bills will be announced. The sponsor of the bill (Senator or Delegate) will give a description of the bill and testify on why it’s needed. They may bring up witnesses they’ve selected to speak in support of the bill. Once they’ve finished, the chair of the committee will usually call upon expert witness panels: one to testify in support and one against the bill(s). After they finish, the chair will start calling upon everyone else who has signed up to testify, usually in alphabetical order of each witness's last name -- but not always. The witness will be given a set time to testify (anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes) on the bill or bills before them. Reading what you’ve submitted as written testimony is generally frowned upon. Instead here are some tips to help you along:
- Remember that whether you like it or not, you're an ambassador for the supporters of the 2nd Amendment and self-defense rights supporters sitting behind you and the rest of us. Do everyone proud!
- Respectfully speak your mind.
- Drive it home on how the bill personally affects you.
- Use your personal experiences and expertise to argue from points of strength.
- Make or further a point that has not been stated yet by someone else.
- Be sincere and concise.
Committee members may ask questions of you, so be ready to think on your feet. When the committee is finished hearing you, they’ll call the next name and so on and so forth. If you’re called upon and someone has already covered your points, it doesn’t hurt to simply say “Support” or “Oppose” and cede your time (the Chair likes that). Even a cheeky "Ditto!" can do.
Other bills may be heard before the gun-related bills come up, so be prepared to wait some time to speak. These hearings can last quite a while and sometimes very late into the evening (and sometimes longer!).
Written testimony is an excellent option for those that cannot stay for the entirety of the hearing. You're also not limited by time like you are when speaking and are free to be as descriptive as you please. Testimony must be submitted in PDF format from a USB flashdrive you provide in-person. Likely the best method for submission is to prepare a blank drive and then load it with exclusively with your PDF testimony. You must also bring at least one printed hard copy in case of an issue with the flashdrive.
These rules are brand new, so it's best to defer directly to the committee's site for reference on the procedures for this:
House Judiciary Committee Rules: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs-current/current-jud-faqs.pdf
Senate Judicial Proceedings Rules: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs-current/current-jpr-faqs.pdf
Find the rest of the committees, using the left tab to toggle between House/Senate: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite/Committees/Charts
As always, you can reach out to Maryland Shall Issue from our website, social media, or at for any other questions and help you may need. Joining MSI will ensure that you are kept up-to-date on the happenings in Annapolis and supporting what we're doing to protect, promote, and restore the self defense rights of Marylanders. Again, you can follow all of the bills this session by bookmarking and checking tinyurl.com/guns2020.