Rules for Conducting Debate


Based on Robert's Rules - An evolving document of parliamentary procedure for University Senate

How is a motion opened to debate?
The presiding officer states the motion and asks "Are you ready for the question?"

When can I speak?

  • You must be recognized (invited to speak) by the presiding officer.
  • Members who desired to be recognized by the presiding officer should stand and address the presiding officer (GCSU variation: simply raise your hand) after debate has been opened by the presiding officer or after another member has yielded the floor.

What can I say?
All discussion should be confined to the immediately pending question (motion) and to whether or not it should be adopted. During debate, no member can attack or question the motives of another member.

How often and long may I speak?
In the debate, each member has the right to speak twice on the same question on the same day - but cannot make a second speech on the same question so long as any member who has not spoken on that question desires the floor. A member who has spoken twice on a particular question on the same day has exhausted his right to debate that question for the day. In an organization that has no special rule relating to the length of speeches, no member can speak longer than ten minutes at a time without permission of the assembly.

How may I limit the time of debate?
A member can make a motion to extend or limit the debate (e.g. speaker time limits, number of times a person can speak to a question) Such motions are not debatable and require a two-thirds vote for their adoption.

What if I need information regarding the question being debated?
Rise and request a point of information from the presiding officer.

Point of Information (How may I get additional information?)
A request directed to the presiding officer, or through the presiding officer to another officer or member, for information relevant to the business at hand but not related to parliamentary procedure.

If the speaker consents to the interruption, the time consumed will be taken out of the speaker's allotted time. The presiding officer therefore asks if the speaker is willing to be interrupted, and if the speaker consents, directs the inquirer to proceed. Although the presiding officer generally remains silent during the ensuing exchange, the inquiry, the reply, and any resulting colloquy (conversational exchange) are made in the third person through the presiding officer. To protect decorum, members are not allowed to carry on discussion directly with one another.

Limit Time of Debate
A motion to (a) fix the hour for closing debate (b) limit time spent in debate (c) reduce or increase the number or length of speeches (d) combine several of the above.

Such a motion can be applied to any immediately pending debatable motion, or a series of pending debatable motions, or to any consecutive part of such a series beginning with the immediately pending question. (It therefore can be made only while a debatable motion is immediately pending.)

Such a motion may not interrupt the speaker, requires a second, is NOT debatable, is amendable, requires a two-thirds vote.

Such a motion is exhausted (1) when all of the questions on which it was imposed have been voted on (2) when those questions affected by the order and not yet voted on have been either referred to committee or postponed indefinitely or (3) at the conclusion of the session in which the order has been adopted Ð whichever occurs first.

Amend a Motion (How may I change the motion?)
"I move that this motion be amended by . . . " Such a motion may not interrupt the speaker, requires a second, is debatable, is amendable, and requires a majority vote.

Postpone, Table, Refer to Committee (How may I defer consideration of the main motion?)

  • Postpone is to defer the consideration to a future time within the same meeting or at a later meeting (requires majority vote)
    * Typically the later time is specified explicitly (postpone definitely) but a variation (also requiring majority vote) is to postpone indefinitely which essentially "kills" the motion under consideration.
  • Table is to set a motion aside temporarily without setting a time for resuming its consideration (requires majority vote). A tabled motion "dies" if it is not taken from the table by the end of the current or subsequent meeting (if not more than a quarterly interval has intervened). See Also: Taking a Motion From the Table
  • Refer to Committee is typically used if the main motion requires substantive amendment to be satisfactory or requires more information or further study. (requires majority vote)

Previous Question (How may I end the debate and call for a vote?)
Is the motion used to bring the assembly to an immediate vote on one or more pending questions?

Such a motion immediately closes debate on and stops amendment of the immediately pending question, takes precedence over all debatable or amendable motions to which it is applied, may not interrupt the speaker, must be seconded, is NOT debatable, is NOT amendable, requires a two-thirds vote.

If such a motion fails to garner the two-thirds vote necessary for adoption, then debate continues as if this motion had never been made.

Revisiting Business (How may I revisit business previously adopted?)
By means of the motion to Rescind or Amend Something Previously Adopted, the assembly can change an action previously taken.

Rescind - also known as Repeal or Annul Ð is the motion by which a previous action or order can be canceled or countermanded. The effect ofRescind is to strike out an entire main motion, resolution, rule, bylaw, section, or paragraph that has been adopted at some previous time.

Amend Something Previously Adopted is the motion that can be used if it is desired to change only a part of the text, or to substitute a different version.

Both motions must be seconded, are debatable, and are amendable. Both motions require (a) a two thirds vote (b) a majority vote when notice of intent to make the motion, stating the complete substance of the proposed change, has been given at the previous meeting or in the call to the present meeting or (c) a vote of the majority of the entire membership - whichever is most practical to obtain.

Taking a Motion From the Table

  1. It requires a motion from a University Senator.
  2. It requires a second from another University Senator.
  3. It is not debatable.
  4. It is not amendable.
  5. It requires a majority vote of the assembly for adoption.
  6. It should be considered only at the proper time (i.e., when it is relevant to do so) according to the agenda (e.g., during the report from the AG committee, unfinished business, new business, etc.).
  7. It does not supersede any motion (i.e., it can't be considered when any other motion is before the assembly) nor when any member has the floor.
  8. A tabled motion can be taken from the table at the same meeting or at the next meeting if not more than a quarterly interval has intervened since the last meeting1. If more than a quarterly interval has intervened since the motion was tabled, then the tabled motion dies. However, the tabled motion can be reintroduced to the assembly as a new motion.

1To clarify "not more than a quarterly interval has intervened since the last meeting", suppose a meeting is held at any time in January then (1) no more than a quarterly interval has intervened since the last meeting if the last meeting was held on or after October 1 of the previous calendar year; and (2) no more than a quarterly interval has intervened since the January meeting if the subsequent meeting is held on or prior to April 30th of the same calendar year.

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