On September 27, 2022, James Stewart, a professional registered parliamentarian, spoke about how and why to use Parliamentary Procedure during Union meetings, the relationship between Parliamentary Procedure and our bylaws, and more. The talk was hosted by the Young Workers Committee whose chair, Nora Meeks, introduced Stewart.
Parliamentary Procedure, also known as Rules of Order, is a way to conduct meetings with fairness and decorum. They take into account how and why groups make decisions. Most often, Robert’s Rules of Order are used as an organization’s Parliamentary Procedure.
What does Parliamentary Procedure do?
- Protects the rights of members and the minority, which is defined by any group of fewer than half of all members.
- Ensures that all members have the same right to speak.
- Ensures that all members have the same right to vote.
- Ensures that all members have the same right to participate in meetings at all levels.
- Provides a decision-making process that can be trusted.
- Provides a process for effective and efficient decision-making.
** If Rules of Order are adhered to, a decision will hold up in court.
What does Parliamentary Procedure not do?
- Serve as a hammer or club for someone to enforce their will on a group.
- Serve as a way for the chair to “gavel through” items on the agenda.
- Serve as an esoteric process that gets in the way of accomplishing goals.
The following can also provide guidelines that must be adhered to:
- Federal and IRS codes.
- State corporation codes and regulations.
- Local regulations. (These are rare. For example, a permit needed for a special event.)
- The charter from the parent organization.
- Bylaws or constitution. (These are generally one in the same. Constitution is the antiquated term.)
- These are the general rules of governance and structure an organization creates for itself.
- Bylaws are amendable by a 2/3 vote.
- Special Rules of Order.
- These are created because Robert’s Rules doesn’t address an issue or isn’t working for a particular issue.
- They are special rules produced for your organization. They are amendable by a 2/3 vote.
- Parliamentary authority.
- Policies, procedures, and standing rules.
This is the number of voting members that must be present at a meeting in order to legally conduct business. This prevents a minority from controlling a meeting. Normally a quorum is a majority of the members unless the bylaws state differently. For any vote that requires only a majority, this means the next whole number greater than 50%. California Corporate Code states, “In no event shall a quorum consist of less than one-third.”
Types of Meetings
- Regular: General Membership Meeting
- Special: A meeting called for a specific purpose.
- Adjourned: The continuation of a previous meeting. Business must be picked up exactly where it was left off at that previous meeting.
- Executive Session: Proceedings at this meetings are a secret. Violating that secrecy is grounds for punishment in most organizations because issues are sensitive, such as personnel issues or consultation with legal counsel.
- Annual: Any member in good standing can attend.
- Convention: Delegates are elected to attend.
Minutes are a record of actions taken at the meeting: nothing else. They are factual and succinct. They do not contain personal bias or comments.
- Motions should be highlighted to make them easy to find.
- Topics discussed should contain a summary of remarks, but don’t attach someone’s name to a remark. This can be cause for litigation.
- Do not attempt to get remarks verbatim.
- When topics are debated, bullet point the comments for and against.
**Minutes are kept forever.
Typical Order of Business for Meetings
(This order is not mandatory; it is the most common order from Robert’s Rules of Order.)
- Call to order
- Opening ceremonies, such as pledge or song (optional)
- Approval of minutes
- Reports of officers
- Reports of standing committees (in perpetual existence, usually named in the bylaws)
- Reports of special committees (designed to accomplish a specific job, and once the job is done the committee is dissolved)
- Special orders (i.e. elections, passing the budget)
- Unfinished business (agenda items from the previous meeting that weren’t addressed)
- General orders (anything else that needs to be discussed at this meeting)
- New business
Types of Voting
- Uncounted: General, unanimous consent. If no one says, “I object,” the motion is adopted by general consent. Silence is considered consent.
- Voice vote: A count of aye’s and no’s.
- Rising: Hands raised, voting cards raised, standing counted, etc.
- Counted: Any rising vote can be counted. Or a roll call can be taken, with individual names called one at a time to vote aye or no.
- Ballot vote
- Fax, phone, email, internet: These must be specifically authorized in the bylaws and have a specific process.
- Electronic systems: Online or a keypad in a room.
- Black and white balls
- Division of the house: When there is uncertainty about a vote, usually an uncounted vote, the yes’s go to one side of the room and the no’s to the other to be counted.
Voters cannot explain their vote in the middle of the voting process. Voting may not be interrupted once the process has begun. A member can change their vote up until the moment the vote is announced by the chair.
No one can be compelled to vote. Abstention is not a vote. It is never counted. It is only recorded in a roll call vote, with permission, or by special order. In one circumstance abstention can affect the outcome; if the vote is a percentage of those present, an abstention will have the same impact as a no vote.
The chair normally only votes on a ballot vote or when their vote will make a difference. i.e. To break a tie majority vote.
Basic Rules for Debate
Respectful debate engenders respected decisions.
- A pending motion is required for a debate.
- Pro and con statements (not discussion) are made on the specific motion or proposition.
- Only the immediate pending question can be debated.
- All remarks are addressed to the chair; the chair represents everybody.
- A member can’t speak without being recognized.
- No one can speak twice until everyone who wants to speak has spoken once.
- No one can speak more than twice without the approval of the assembly.
- Time limits can be imposed.
Decorum for Debate
- Debate is about issues not individuals.
- Confine remarks to the merits of the pending question.
- Refrain from attacking a member’s motives.
- Avoid using a member’s name.
- Remain quiet while others are presenting their comments.
Chair Duties During Debate
- Maintains the appearance of neutrality.
- Does not debate but can provide factual information.
- Recognizes members in order of request or alternates pro and con if known.
- Imposes the time limit evenly.
- Enforces the rules of decorum.
The chair may vote on any questions. This option must be applied carefully.
What are Improper Motions?
- In conflict with laws, bylaws, or charter and are procedurally illegal.
- Outside the objective of your organization.
- Questions that substantially address a settled rule (a matter that’s already decided).
What is the Precedence or Hierarchy of Motions?
There are 92 motions in Robert’s Rules of Order. The following have a specific order precedence.
How to Handle a Motion
- Member rises.
- Member is recognized by the chair.
- Members says, “I move …” (Do not say, “I think.” Statements should be clear, concise, and complete).
- Never say, “I so move.” This is not a proper motion. It makes the entire action invalid.
- Another member seconds. This does not indicate agreement. This is simply a statement of belief that the motion is worthy of talking about.
- Chair states the motion: “It’s moved and seconded that we …”
- Chair asks for debate.
- Chair asks for vote.
- Chair states if motion passed or lost.
- Once a vote it taken, the matter is done. Chair goes on to next business or order.
Types of Motions
There can be several motions on the floor at a time, but debate and voting take place on only one at a time.
Main Motion: Brings a new piece of business to the assembly.
Postpone Indefinitely: This is how you kill an issue without voting on it for this session. Must be seconded and is debatable. A majority vote kills the issue for that meeting or convention.
Amend: To alter a motion (add, remove, remove and add, substitute a paragraph or the entire motion). Must be seconded and is debatable. Is amendable one time. The amendment must be germane, meaning it involves the same question as the motion to which it applies. Once the amendment is stated by the chair, it belongs to the assembly. All amendments made must go to committee for a majority vote. The maker of the amendment has the right to speak first.
Refer to Committee: Sends main motion and all adhering motions to committee. This can be a standing or special committee, or a motion can create a committee. Referrals must be seconded. Is debatable. Is amendable as to who’s on the committee. Majority vote required.
Postpone Definitely: This is how to put something off to a specific time. Must be seconded. Is amendable. Majority vote required.
Limit or Extend Debate: To change the time allotted for debate. Must be seconded. Is not debatable. Is amendable as to times. Requires 2/3 vote.
Previous Question: Ends debate. Proceed to vote on the pending question. Alternate form: Call the Question. Must be seconded. Is not debatable or amendable. Requires 2/3 vote.
Lay on the Table: Lay aside temporarily while you do something of greater priority. i.e. Your speaker arrived and only has a limited amount of time, or you are waiting for someone to arrive. Must be seconded. Does not kill the motion. If laid on the table and not taken off the table by the next meeting, then the motion is killed. Not debatable, but the chair can ask for an explanation.
Appeal Decision of the Chair: Causes the ruling of the chair to be decided by the assembly. Must be seconded. Is debatable. Has to be a tie or majority for the chair to win.
Reconsider: To bring back a motion that’s been disposed of. Requires majority vote to grant reconsideration. May be postponed to another meeting. Can only be moved by someone who voted on prevailing side.
Point of Order: This can only be used to call attention to a potential Parliamentary fault or other rule violation. The chair decides. Can be appealed.
Point of Order Process:
- Member rises and says, “Point of order.”
- Chair says, “State your point.”
- Members states their point/the problem.
- Chair accepts the point or puts the matter to a vote of the members, or chair explains why they think the point is not valid.
- Member may debate.
- Point is voted on. Chair loses with the majority in the negative. Chair wins with the majority in the positive or a tie (chair will break the tie).
- Point of order is an interruption and requires special circumstances. It is an immediate action and must not be undertaken casually.
Adjourn: Ends the meeting. Is a main motion if no other business pending. Must be seconded. Is not debatable. Requires majority vote.
This summary is intended to serve as an introduction to Parliamentary Procedure. Please consult an expert for specific issues or questions.
Stewart’s Cheat Sheet offers further details on how to make and process a motion, how to make and process an amendment, and more.