Jim Slaughter

Article Summary:

Understanding how motions work in an assembly.

Parliamentary Procedures: Business through Motions

A "motion" is a formal statement of a proposal or question to an assembly for consideration and action.

A motion is brought before the assembly with three steps:

1. A member makes the motion.
("I move that . . . .")

2. Another member seconds the motion.
Seconder does not need to be recognized.

3. The chair states the question.
"It is moved and seconded that (or to) . . . ."

Once properly before the assembly, a motion is considered in three steps:

1. Members debate the motion (unless undebatable)
Preference in recognition:
(a) Member who made motion

(b) Member who has not yet spoken a first time

(c) If possible, alternate for and against

2. Chair puts question to a vote
"The question is on the adoption of . . . ."

(Voice vote)

"As many as are in favor of the motion, say aye."
"Those opposed, say no."

(Rising vote)

"Those in favor of the motion will rise [or "stand"]. Be seated."
"Those opposed will rise [or "stand"]. Be seated."

3. Chair announces result of vote

"The ayes have it and the motion is adopted."
"The noes have it and the motion is lost."

"The affirmative has it and the motion is adopted."
"The negative has it and the motion is lost."

Many specific motions such as amend, recess, and adjourn, have become defined under parliamentary law. For convenience and description, these various motions may be classified into five broad categories. These classes of motions are as follows:

A main motion brings business before the assembly. It can only be made when no other motion is pending and ranks lowest in the order of precedence of motions (see next page).

Subsidiary motions assist the assembly in considering or disposing of a main motion (and sometimes other motions). Subsidiary motions fall into the order of precedence. (See below).

Privileged motions do not relate to the pending business, but have to do with special matters of immediate and overriding importance which, without debate, should be allowed to interrupt the consideration of anything else. Like subsidiary motions, the privileged motions fit into an order of precedence. (See next page).

I ncidental motions deal with questions of procedure arising out of other motions or business. They have no order of precedence among themselves. Instead, they arise incidentally and are decided as they arise.

T hese motions do not quite fit in any other category and rarely arise. They do not fit within the order of precedence and can only be made while no business is pending.

Not every motion is in order at any given time. Instead, motions are proposed, considered, and disposed of in a priority of order known as "precedence." The purpose of assigning a rank or order to each commonly used motion is to enable an assembly to consider each motion without confusion. The order of precedence from the highest ranking to the lowest ranking is as follows:

Privileged Motions
1. Adjourn
2. Recess
3. Question of privilege

Subsidiary Motions
4. Lay on the table
5. Previous question (end debate)
6. Limit or extend debate
7. Postpone to a certain time (or "postpone" definitely)
8. Commit or refer (to committee)
9. Amend
10. Postpone indefinitely

Main Motion

"Precedence" can be defined with two basic rules:

(1) When a motion is being considered, any motion higher on the list of precedence may be proposed, but no motion of lower precedence may be proposed.

(2) Motions are considered and voted on in reverse order to their proposal. The motion last proposed (and highest on the list) is considered and disposed of first.

As with any area of the law, a little knowledge of parliamentary procedure is often a dangerous thing. Some people view parliamentary law as something to be learned so that they can manipulate the rules to their advantage. However, any intent in using parliamentary procedure that is other than constructive, such as to confuse or confound, is an abuse of rules. "The purpose of parliamentary procedure is to facilitate the transaction of business and to promote cooperation and harmony." Sturgis, p. 7.

Since rules are not always appropriate in every situation, recourse may be had to the fundamental principles of parliamentary law as stated by Sturgis:

  • All members have equal rights, privileges, and obligations.

  • The majority vote decides.

  • The rights of the minority must be protected.

  • Full and free discussion of every proposition presented for decision is an established right of members.

  • Every member has the right to know the meaning of the question before the assembly and what its effect will be.

  • All meetings must be characterized by fairness and by good faith.

"The application of parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member's opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion."
- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (1990)

Jim Slaughter is an Expert on Parilmentary procedures, and an attorney and partner at Forman Rossabi Black Marth Iddings & Slaughter, PA., in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is both a Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher and a Professional Registered Parliamentarian, both of which denote his extensive knowledge, experience and ability as a parliamentarian. He has instructed parliamentary procedure in a variety of forums, including college and continuing legal education. For more information on parlimentary procedures, or to contact him, please visit www.jimslaughter.com

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