Congressional Hearing 101
Next Thursday, June 26th the first-ever Congressional hearing on transgender issues will be held by the Health Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee of the Education and Labor Committee. NCTE has received a lot of questions about this historic hearing, so we thought some of our members might appreciate some basic information about what a hearing is and how it works.
What is a Congressional Hearing?
Congressional hearings are simply one of the ways members of Congress gather the information they need to act knowledgeably as they do their work. Hearings are used as a way for members of Congress to learn more about particular areas of interest and whether Congressional action is needed. This hearing will be a fact finding hearing meant to educate Congress not to advocate for a particular piece of legislation, although it will certainly be helpful in the long run at advancing the passage of a Employment Non-Discrimination Act that we can all support.
At a hearing, selected people usually read pre-written testimony and then respond to questions from members of the committee. In addition to the oral testimony of witnesses, NCTE and other interested parties will also usually provide written testimony for the written committee record. Written testimony is due to the committee within 7-14 days at the discretion of the chairperson.
Sometimes hearings are held to discuss particular pieces of legislation, while other times, as in this case, hearings are held on subject areas and not tied to particular legislation.
Why is the Hearing on June 26th so Historic?
Until now, no committee in either the United States Senate or House of Representatives has ever held hearings specifically on transgender people. Until recently, transgender issues just haven’t been on the agenda in Congress. Collectively the work of NCTE and other transgender and allied advocates has put job protections for transgender people on the federal agenda. The hearings represent a significant step forward.
Who Testifies at a Hearing?
Who testifies at a hearing, as well as when and if a hearing happens, is pretty much up to the committee chairperson. The list of people invited to testify (witnesses) is set in advance of the hearing; individuals cannot just decide to testify. Generally the committee chairperson picks most of the people who will testify and the highest ranking member of the minority party selects the rest. Members of Congress who are not on the particular committee are usually permitted to testify if they want, so, for instance, in this case, Congressman Barney Frank and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin are both planning to testify even though they are not on the Education and Labor Committee.
Organizations like NCTE often provide suggestions of people who would be appropriate witnesses and work with the committee staff to get best possible selection of witnesses. Rep. Frank in particular was also in bringing about this hearing and has no doubt advised Chairman Andrews about witnesses.
The list of witnesses is not yet publicly available, but you can expect that there will be transgender people who have been victims of job discrimination as well as policy experts and representatives from employers who have had good experiences with transgender employees. NCTE is already working with most of the invited witnesses to prepare their statements.
Can Anyone Attend a Congressional Hearing?
With only a very few exceptions, Congressional hearings by law must be open to the public and the media. This hearing on the 26th will be open to both, although only a limited number of seats are available. If you are going to be in Washington, DC that day, feel free to attend.
In addition to significant work leading up to the hearing, NCTE staff will be in attendance at the hearing. We are working the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA)to bring Autumn Sandeen, an amazing transgender blogger from the Blog Pam’s House Blend to make sure Autumn can get to DC to blog the hearing, so that people can read all about it at pamshouseblend.com.
Where And When Is The Hearing?
The hearing will be held at 10:30AM (EST) until about Noon in Room 2175 of the Rayburn House office Building in Washington, DC. It is scheduled for approximately one and one half hours.
Will the Hearing be Broadcast on C-SPAN or elsewhere?
C-SPAN’s schedule for next week is not yet set. We have been in touch with them hoping to get the hearing covered. Once coverage is confirmed we will provide that information to you so folks who can’t be in Washington can be part of the historic event.
Who is on This Subcommittee?
A detailed list of who is on the subcommittee can be found on their website.