Parliamentary Procedure



The ASB is, by its nature, a deliberative assembly, and as such it is governed by the rules of parliamentary law. This parliamentary guide is intended to familiarize senators with the basic principles and concepts of parliamentary procedure. If you are familiar with parliamentary rules, you may want to review and skim this guide. If you have had little experience with parliamentary procedure, please read the guide carefully. The use of parliamentary procedure makes our Senate meetings run more smoothly , efficiently, and professionally. If you ever have any questions about parliamentary procedure, please don't hesitate to ask the Speaker.

Most of the business of the Senate is conducted through the use of motions, which are proposals for some type of action. Many different types of motions exist, and they can be far-reaching or very narrow in their scope. With a few exceptions, most moti ons will be made during Old Business or perhaps Special Orders.

A standard framework exists for handling motions. They are first made by a senator and seconded by another senator. Next, a period of debate occurs (some motions are undebatable, however). Debate ends when everyone who wishes to speak has done so or wh en an imposed time limit is reached. During the debate, the motion can be discussed, changed, referred, postponed, or treated in many other ways. If the motion has not been referred or postponed after debate ends, the motion is voted on. Motions that are adopted become the policy of the Senate; the adoption of motions within this framework is how the Senate conducts its business.

Part I of this guide defines some basic parliamentary terms. Part II provides an overview of common parliamentary situations and concepts. Part III provides a comprehensive list of parliamentary motions, their functions, and their special characteristi cs. Part IV is a reference chart which shows the order of precedence among motions (that is, their rank).



Quorum: A quorum is the minimum number of senators required at a meeting to conduct business.

Chair: The chair is the person presiding over the Senate meeting. This will be the Speaker.

Floor: A person who has been granted the right to speak by the Speaker has obtained the floor.

Precedence: The rank of motions is their order of precedence. Generally speaking, a motion of high precedence may be made while a motion of lower precedence is pending. The rank of the parliamentary motions is given in Part IV.

Yield: A motion of low precedence yields to one of higher precedence.

Pending: A pending motion is one that has been brought before the Senate and which has not yet been disposed of. A motion can be disposed of in many ways, including the following: referring the question to a committee, postponing the ques tion, or voting to pass or defeat the motion. An immediately pending motion is the one being considered at the time in question. For example, a piece of Senate legislation may be pending while an amendment to that legislation is immediately pending . The amendment would have to be dealt with by the Senate before the legislation could be voted on directly.

Question: The immediately pending motion is often referred to as the question.

Entertain: The Speaker entertains a motion when s/he accepts or allows it to be brought before the Senate. Sometimes when the Speaker sees the need for a particular motion to be made, s/he may state that s/he will entertain the particular motion. For example, if everyone looks like they are about to fall asleep, the Speaker can suggest that s/he will entertain a recess for ten minutes. A senator can then make the suggested motion by merely saying, "I so move."

Out of order: Motions, debate, or actions that are not allowed under the rules of a given situation are out of order.

Dilatory: A dilatory motion is one intended to disrupt or impede business and may be ruled out of order by the Speaker.

Recess: A recess is a break in a meeting.

Adjournment: An adjournment is a termination of a meeting.



Obtaining the floor - Someone who wishes to speak or offer a motion in a Senate meeting must usually obtain the floor--that is, be recognized and granted the right to speak by the chair. To obtain the floor, one should raise his/her hand at the conclusion of any remarks by someone already speaking. In recognizing people to speak, the Speaker follows rules which grant preferences to some people over others in obtaining the floor. For example, a senator who makes a motion has the right to speak on that motion before anyone else. As much as possible, the Speaker alternates in recognizing the proponents and opponents of an issue. Furthermore, while everyone has the right to speak twice on each debatable question, no one has the right to speak a seco nd time before all who desire to speak have had their first opportunity to do so.

Motions - Motions are proposals for action by the Senate and can only be made by senators. Motions have a variety of objectives, and each motion has characteristics that make it unique. Senators making motions should begin by saying, "I move..." , and then stating the motion. Motions should always be explicit and specific--the Speaker will not entertain vague or poorly worded motions.

Bringing a motion before the Senate - Generally, there are three steps in the process of bringing a motion before the Senate: 1) A senator offers the motion by obtaining the floor and stating the motion; 2) Another senator seconds the motion (if the particular motion requires a second); and 3) the Speaker states the question on the motion. The motion is not officially before the Senate until the Speaker has stated the question.

Seconding - Most motions require a second. A second does not necessarily imply that the seconder agrees with the motion, but that s/he merely believes the motion to be worth consideration. A senator can make a second simply by saying "Second" af ter a motion is made, without having to obtain the floor.

Considering a motion - There are three further steps in considering a motion after it has been brought before the Senate: 1) The motion is debated (if debate is allowed for the particular motion); 2) the Speaker puts the question to a vote; and 3) the Speaker announces the outcome of the vote.

Voting - Most motions require a vote in order for the Senate to dispose of them. There are several different types of voting that will be used in the Senate: 1) A voice vote is the most common type of voting. The Speaker will ask those in favor of a question to say "aye". The Speaker will then ask those opposed to say "nay". After judging both responses, the Speaker will announce the result of the vote. If the vote is close, the Speaker or any senator can call for a division of the Senate (see P art III); 2) A vote can also be taken by a show of hands. This type of vote follows the same general rules as the voice vote, except that a show of hands may be counted or uncounted; 3) A rising vote requires that senators stand to demonstrate their suppo rt for or opposition to a question. A rising vote is generally counted and is often used as a verifying vote; and 4) A ballot vote is always counted and is used when it is desired to vote secretly. Elections are often conducted by a ballot vote.

Unanimous consent - Unanimous consent is a specialized type of voting. It is used only in situations where it is anticipated that there will be no opposition to a request. In such situations the Speaker may simply order the action unless someone objects. If there is any objection to the request or proposal, the objector must speak up immediately, and the request or proposal must be put up to a regular vote.



Motions fall into five categories depending on their purpose: 1) main; 2)subsidiary; 3) privileged; 4) incidental; 5) motions that bring a question again before the Senate. The descriptions of the motions in this section tell the effect and any special characteristics of each motion. Unless stated otherwise, it should be assumed that each motion requires a second, can be reconsidered, requires a majority vote, and is debatable and amendable.

A. Main motions - Main motions bring a substantive and new item of business before the Senate. They can only be made at the proper time in the agenda and when no other business is pending. In the ASG Senate, most main motions have to be written and have to go through the committee system. The five types of Senate bills--Senate Legislation, Finance Legislation, Resolutions, Constitutional Amendments, and Bylaw Amendments are all main motions.

B. Subsidiary motions - Subsidiary motions help the assembly treat or dispose of other motions to which they are attached. Subsidiary motions may alter, postpone, or refer motions. They may also change the time frame of speeches and debate.

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1. Postpone Indefinitely: Kills the motion without bringing it to a direct vote. Can be used to avoid an unpopular or controversial proposal. Not amendable. An affirmative vote can be reconsidered, but not a negative vote. Form: "I move to postp one the question indefinitely."

2. Amend: Alters the motion to which it is attached by striking, adding, or inserting words, sentences, or paragraphs. Can be used to substitute an entirely new but related proposal. Takes precedence over the motion it amends and yields to any m otions that take precedence over the motion it amends. For example, a motion to amend the length of a recess takes precedence over the motion to recess but would yield to a motion to adjourn, since the motion to adjourn is of higher rank than the motion t o recess (see precedence chart). Secondary but not tertiary amendments are allowed (an amendment to an amendment to an amendment is not allowed). Must be germane (relevant). Is debatable if the motion it proposes to amend is debatable. Form: "I move to st rike the word 'must' and insert 'should' in its place."

3. Commit or Refer: Has the effect of removing the pending question from the Senate's consideration and referring it to a committee for consideration. The committee to which the question is referred must be specified in the motion. The motion ca n include instructions to the committee. Can be reconsidered if the committee has not begun consideration of the question. The committee to which the motion is referred is expected to report back to the Senate in a timely fashion. Form: "I move the referr al of the question to the Student Services committee."

4. Postpone to a Certain Time: Removes the question from the Senate's consideration to be considered at a later, specified time. Form: "I move we postpone the question until October 9 at 8:00 PM."

5. Limit or Extend Limits of Debate: Limits or extends the time allowed for debate, the allowable length of speeches, or the number of speeches each person can make on the pending business. Can be applied to the immediately pending question or a ny series of pending questions. Is amendable but not debatable (amendments must be made after the Speaker announces the question and before he puts the questions to a vote). In ASG, requires a majority vote to extend the normal ten-minute debate limit. Al l other limitations or extensions require a 2/3 vote. Can be reconsidered, but only the unexecuted part of the order is subject to reconsideration. Form: "I move we limit each speech to one minute."

6. Previous Question: Ends debate and amendment on pending business and brings the question to an immediate vote. Can be applied to the immediately pending question or any series of pending questions. Is not debatable or amendable. Requires a tw o-thirds vote. Can only be reconsidered before being executed. Form: "I move the previous question."

7. Lay on the Table: Removes the question from the assembly's consideration temporarily. Should not be used to kill a question. A motion laid on the table can be considered again by the use of the motion Take from the Table (see below). Is not d ebatable or amendable and cannot be reconsidered. Form: "I move to lay the question on the table."

C. Privileged motions-Privileged motions are unrelated to the pending business, but are of such importance or urgency that they need to be considered at the time they are introduced.

1. Raise a Question of Privilege: May be used to ensure that the rights and comfort of the Senate and its senators are not denied. For example, a senator who cannot hear the proceedings could raise a question of privilege. Is in order when anoth er person has the floor if necessary. Does not require a second and is not debatable or amendable. Ruled upon by the Speaker, and no vote is taken unless the ruling is appealed. In the above instance, the Speaker might ask people to quiet down. The Speake r's ruling can be appealed but not reconsidered. Form: "I wish to raise a question of privilege."

2. Recess: Brings about a break in the meeting. Is debatable and cannot be reconsidered. Form: "I move we recess for ten minutes."

3. Adjourn: Ends the meeting. Is not debatable or amendable. Since ASG is a prescribed order of business (including an adjournment), this motion would be used only in unusual circumstances. Form: "I move we adjourn."

D. Incidental motions- Incidental motions relate to the pending business but do not assist the Senate in dealing with the business in the same way as subsidiary motions.

1. Point of Order: Requires the Speaker to make a ruling if there has been a potential breech of parliamentary rules, the ASG Constitution, or the ASG Bylaws. For example, if the Speaker allowed a motion to postpone the question indefinitely whi le a motion to refer to the question was pending, a senator could raise a point of order and remind the Speaker that the motion to postpone indefinitely is not in order at that time (see the precedence chart). Is in order when another person has the floor . Does not require a second. Is not amendable. Is ruled upon by the Speaker, whose ruling can be appealed. Is not debatable unless the Speaker submits the point to a vote of the Senate. Cannot be reconsidered. Form: "Point of order-- the motion to postpon e indefinitely is not in order now."

2. Appeal: Contests a decision of the Speaker by bringing the matter before the Senate for a vote. Is in order when another person has the floor, but must be made at the time of the ruling. Is debatable unless the immediately pending question is undebatable. The Speaker may speak twice in debate on an appeal while everyone else may only speak once. Is not amendable. A majority of the Senate must vote to oppose the ruling in order to overturn the Speaker's decision. Form: "I appeal the chair's ru ling."

3. Suspend the Rules: Can be used to ignore certain applicable rules which would otherwise prevent the accomplishment of the desired purpose. The ASG Constitution cannot be suspended. Is not debatable or amendable. Cannot be reconsidered. Requir es a two-thirds vote. Can be combined with another motion to accomplish the desired purpose (this is the only motion that can be combined with another). Form: "I move we suspend the rules relating to elections and elect the Secretary by acclamation (gener al consent)." 4. Consideration by Paragraph: Allows a long proposal to be considered, debated, and amended paragraph by paragraph. Is not debatable and cannot be reconsidered. Form: "I move to consider the question by paragraph."

5. Division of the Assembly: Requires a vote to be retaken by show of hands or by rising vote to verify the result. Can be called for by a single senator simply by saying, "Division." Can be demanded any time from the moment the Speaker announce s the result of a voice vote until the Speaker states the question on a new motion. Is in order without obtaining the floor. Does not require a second. Is not debatable or amendable and cannot be reconsidered. The vote taken after a division is called for can be by a show of hands or a rising vote but it need not be counted. Only the Senate as a whole can order a vote to be counted, although the Speaker will usually count the vote anyway. Form: "Division."

6. Motions Relating to Methods of Voting: Call for a vote to be taken by a method specified by the motion (perhaps a counted rising or ballot vote). Are in order until the Speaker has stated the question on a new motion. Are not debatable. Form: "I move to conduct the vote by secret ballot."

7. Motions Relating to Nominations: Open or close nominations or determine the method of making nominations. Are not debatable. The motion to close nominations requires a two-thirds vote; the others require a majority vote. Form: "I move to clos e nominations."

8. Requests and Inquires: There are several types of requests and inquires. A parliamentary inquiry is a request for the Speaker's opinion on a point of parliamentary procedure. A point of information inquiry is one in which someon e asks about factual information pertaining to the business at hand. It is always addressed to the Speaker, who may then answer it him/herself or call on someone to answer it. A request for permission towithdraw or modify a motion can be made by th e motion's maker after it has been stated by the Speaker. Requests and inquiries are not debatable or amendable. Only a request to modify or withdraw a motion is subject to a vote, and then only if there is any objection. Form: "Parliamentary inquiry--is the motion to reconsider in order at this time?" "Point of information--How much was spent on office supplies last year?"

E. Motions that bring a question again before the Senate

1. Take from the Table: Brings a question before the Senate again that was previously laid on the table. Is not debatable or amendable and cannot be reconsidered. Form: :"I move to take Senate Legislation 79 from the table."

2. Rescind; Amend Something Previously Adopted: Repeals or changes a motion already adopted by the Senate. Cannot be applied where it is too late to undo action already taken or where it is possible to accomplish the same objective with a motion to reconsider. Requires a two-thirds vote. A negative vote (not to rescind or amend) can be reconsidered, but not an affirmative vote. Form: "I move to rescind Resolution 4, which was previously adopted."

3. Reconsider: Brings under renewed consideration a question on which the Senate has already voted. Can only be made by a senator who voted with the winning side of the question (e.g. if the motion passed, can only be made by a senator who voted "aye"). Can only be made at the same meeting the vote was taken, but can be considered at that meeting or the next meeting. Because of the time limit involved, the making of motion to reconsider takes precedence over all other motions. The consideration of the motion to reconsider, however, has only the same rank as the motion to be reconsidered. For example, a motion to reconsider a motion to lay a bill on the table could be made while a motion to recess was pending, but it could not be dealt with until the motion to recess had been disposed, because the motion to recess has a higher rank than the motion to lay on the table. Generally speaking, can be applied to most motions except: 1) when action has been taken that cannot be undone; or 2) when another parliamentary motion can accomplish the same purpose. Can be made without obtaining the floor, but cannot interrupt a speaker. Is debatable whenever the motion to be reconsidered is debatable. If a motion to reconsider cannot be considered at the time it is made, a senator must "call it up" at a later time. Is not amendable and cannot be reconsidered. If it passes, the motion to reconsider brings the original motion before the Senate as if it had never been voted on. Form: "I move to reconsider the vote on Finance Legislation 26."



Motions are listed in their order of precedence from highest to lowest. Motions on the same level have the same rank.

The Rank of Motions

Fix the Time to Which to Adjourn



Raise a Question of Privilege

Call for the Orders of the Day

Lay on the Table

Previous Question

Limit/Extend Limits of Debate

Postpone to a certain Time

Commit or Refer


Division of a Question

Consideration by Paragraph

Postpone Indefinitely

Objection to the Consideration of a Question

Main Motion / Discharge a Committee / Rescind; Amend Something

Previously Adopted / Take from the Table

Motions that have a variable rank

Point of Order


Suspend the Rules

Division of the Assembly

Motions Relating to Voting

Motions Relating to Nominations

Requests and Inquiries

Parliamentary Inquiry

Request to Withdraw or Modify a Motion






Credit to Northwestern University ASG
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