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Archived Information

Working With Your School Committee:
A Student Guide

Appendix Five: Parliamentary Procedure

A Short Synopsis of Parliamentary Procedure

Parliamentary procedure is a set of rules for conducting meetings. If one is knowledgeable about the procedures and if these procedures are strictly followed, everyone can be heard and decisions are made without confusion.

Parliamentary procedure has a long history. It originated in the early English Parliaments (discussion of public affairs) and came to America with the first settlers. It became uniform in 1876 when Henry M. Robert published his manual on parliamentary Law (Robert's Rules of Order). Today, these rules of operation are used for many deliberative assemblies.

How are members heard? They make motions. A motion is a proposal that the assembly take a stand or take action on some issue. Members can:

  • Present motions (make a proposal)
  • Second motions (express support for discussion of another member's motion)
  • Debate motions (give opinions on the motion)
  • Vote on motions (make a decision)

There are four types of motions:

Main motions - introduce subjects to the assembly for its consideration. They cannot be made when another motion is before the assembly. They yield to privileged, subsidiary and incidental motions. Example: ...I move that we remove the Chairperson from office as required under the by-laws.

Subsidiary motions - change or affect how the main motion is handled (voted on before the main motion). Example: ...I move to substitute the word "impeached" by the word "censured."

Privileged motions - are most urgent and about matters not necessarily related to the business on the floor. Example: ...I rise to a question of privilege and call for the order of the day to change from the regular order of business. (A change in the regular order of business usually requires a 2/3 vote.)

Incidental motions - are questions of procedure that arise out of other motions and must be considered before the other motion. Example: ...I move we suspend the rules for the purpose of limiting debate to three speakers for and three speakers against -- each speaker. (This requires 2/3 vote of assembly.)

Some questions relating to motions:

Is it in order? Your motion must relate to the business at hand and be presented at the right time. It must not be obstructive, frivolous or against the by-laws.
May I interrupt the speaker? Some motions are so important that the speaker may be interrupted to make them. The original speaker regains the floor after this motion has been considered.
Do I need a Second? Usually, yes. A second indicates that another member would like to consider your motion. It prevents spending time on a question which interests only one person.
Is it debatable? Parliamentary procedure guards the right to free and full debate on most motions. Some privileged and incidental motions are not debatable.
Can it be amended? Striking out, inserting or both can alter some motions at once. Amendments must relate to the subject as presented in the main motion.
What vote is needed? Most require only a majority vote but motions concerning the rights of the assembly or its members need 2/3 vote to be adopted.
Can it be reconsidered? Some motions can be redebated and revoted to give members a chance to change their minds. The move to reconsider must come from the winning side.


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Last Updated: January 1, 2000
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