Testify! Speaking at Legislative Hearings

Witnesses at Congressional hearings in DC often seem to be spending most of their time listening to Congressmen grandstand rather than actually testifying. I’ve testified four times in the past few months before Georgia legislators, and found the experience very different from the televised spectacles. Perhaps it is because tax issues do not get the same type of attention oil spills or mine accidents garner, or because state legislatures feel more pressure to get things done, but  the representatives and senators before whom I have spoken have been much more interested in fact finding than in pontificating. I’ve broken down the types of questions I receive into four categories – my own legislative inquiry taxonomy – and wondered if anyone could add to them.

1. Specific Facts. These are attempts to fill specific gaps in the legislators’ knowledge, relevant to either the bill at hand or the issues surrounding it. How many people are working in the Georgia game dev industry? How has it grown? What are the average salaries? What types of games are being made in Georgia? Is anyone developing VR? These make up the bulk of the questions I get. They are often the most fun to answer, because the industry has grown so strongly here. I can imagine these questions could be more problematic for people who testify on less pleasant issues.

2. Prognosis. The fact-finding questions often lead to attempts to probe the future. What will happen to the game industry here if tax credits go away? How about if the credits get expanded? It is too easy to discount these questions as legislators trying to make a point cloaked in the form of a question. However, while these questions may reflect their political ideologies, I’ve found that they usually stem from the legislators’ interest in both helping their constituents and having a bigger effect. If a legislator can change a bill to have a greater impact and get themselves some recognition for doing so, it is a win-win. It is a pleasant surprise that, at least on a state level, legislators are more interested in being able to show that they have accomplished something rather than that they have blocked something.

3. Philosophical. These are broader questions that go beyond the bill and immediate issues, and usually seek to address broader cultural issues. How do we stimulate children to study computer programming? Should we encourage game developers to locate outside of the main metro areas? Can we make Georgia a center for IP development as well as game and film production? It is a great temptation for me to really run with these questions, exploring them in depth for far too long. However, that always risks distracting everyone from the main issues (and bill) at hand. Thankfully, legislators who have these questions are great ones with whom to follow up later.

4. Bill Minutia. These can be the most in-depth questions, and the ones that require the most precision to handle correctly. Who can use the credits? Are they transferable and for how long? How does the application process differ from what it was like three years ago? What is the last date on which a company can apply for the credits? The answers to these questions are not as clear as they might appear. The credit has changed a lot over the years. Different companies have different fiscal years. Unrelated tax issues can hold them up. The Department of Revenue is often in these hearings, and it has been a great experience to work with it to ensure a clear and accurate picture of our bill appears. Still, this is often where the success of a bill lives and dies, and getting these questions right is critical. Heck, I have been tripped up before because the legislators had a version of the bill with different line numbering than mine had!

Finally, I am glad to announce that another bill the Georgia Game Developers Association supported, HR 103, passed both the Georgia House and Senate and is on its way to the Governor to sign. The resolution continues the tradition of a day of coding on Dec. 10 and urges an expansion of programming education across the state.

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