Parliamentary Procedures

This text was written by Robert D. Kully, former chair of the Statewide Senate of the CSU in the 1980's.

Parliamentary procedures are followed by most all organized policy making groups in transacting busi­ness. These procedures consist of a set of rules which are based upon certain principles. These prin­ciples provide that the conduct of the group is both democratic and efficient. Thus, parliamentary pro­cedures are simply a standardized code of everyday good manners applied to a special situation created when a large number of people gather together in a business meeting to take some form of group action. The most important principles are:

  1. Parliamentary rules exist to provide an orderly way of conducting the group's business.
  2. The majority rules and the procedures enable tho group to act when a majority desires action.
  3. Parliamentary rules provide for the protection of the minority; tho minority baa a right to be heard and to become the majority.
  4. All members have equal rights, privileges, and obligations.
  5. Full and free discussion of every question is guaranteed.
  6. Only one question can be considered at a time. Every member has a right at all times to know what question is under consideration.
  7. The most direct procedures to achieve the group's purpose and to insure prompt action should be followed.
  8. The minimum essential officers tor the conduct of business are a presiding officer and a secretary, or clerk. The presiding officer conducts the meeting and sees that the rules are observed. The secretary makes a written record of what is done.
  9. Customs of formality that are followed by the presiding officer and members under parliamentary procedure serve to maintain the chair's necessary position to impartiality and help to preserve an objective and impersonal approach.
  • The president or chief officer of an organized group who presides at its meetings is addressed as "Mr. President" or "Madam President, " "Mr. Moderator" or "Madam Moderator," "Mr. Chairman" or "Madam Chairwoman," "Mr. Chairperson" or "Madam Chairperson," er some other appropriate title. The presiding officer refers to himself or herself' in the third person: ''The Chair rules that • • • " or "The Chair is pleased to report that . • • "
  • Members address only- the chair or address each other through the chair. They generally should try to avoid mentioning a member's name whenever the person involved can be described in some other way, such as, "Mr. Chairperson, may I ask the member to explain . . ." Before a member can make a motion or speak in debate, the member must "obtain the floor''; that is, the member must be recognized by the chair as having the exclusive right to be heard at that time. To claim the floor, a member addresses the chair and, if recognized, has the floor to speak.
  • The general procedure for the conduct of business is as follows:

(1)   A member addresses the chair and seeks recognition.

(2)   The chair recognizes the member to speak.

(3) The member states the motion.

(4) The chair calls for a second.

(5) If seconded, the motion is restated by the chair.

(6) The chair conducts the debate on the motion.

(7)  The chair puts the question to a vote.

(8) the chair announces the voting result.

(9) The maker of the motion is assigned the floor first in debate, if that person claims it before anyone else has been recognized. In 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. Without the permission of the assembly, no one can speak longer than permitted by the rules of the body--or, in a non-legislative assembly, that has no rule of its own relating to the length of speeches, longer than ten minutes. 

​10. Committees, as understood in parliamentary law, are bodies that are subordinate instruments of an assembly, or are accountable to a higher authority in some other way not characteristic of an assembly. Committees have no minimum size, but are often, though not necessarily, very small; a committee could consist of one person. Committee members are elected or appointed by (or by direction of) an assembly to consider, investigate, or take action on certain matters or subjects, or to do all of these things. A large committee generally follows parliamentary procedure such as an assembly does. Most parliamentary rules apply, with certain codifications, to permit greater flexibility and informality.

11. The group can act only on a motion properly made and seconded, with only minor exceptions. Motions have a definite order of precedence depending on the relative urgency of each and the effect they have on the group's business. A motion of higher precedence may be made when any motion is pending, and those of higher rank must be disposed of first. Motions are of four types: privileged, subsidiary, incidental, and main:

  • Privileged motions have precedence over all other motions since they are related to the welfare of the group as a whole rather than to any particular motion before the group. They fall within a list of precedence.
  • Subsidiary motions yield precedence to the privileged motions and take precedence over main motions. Because subsidiary motions are concerned with the disposal or modification of a main motion, they must be disposed of before the main motion to which they apply. They fall within a list of precedence.
  • Incidental motions do not properly fall within the list of precedence, since they usually arise out of business before the assembly. They may be proposed at any time, and must be decided as they arise. They fall within no list of precedence among themselves.
  • Original main motion and incidental main motions differ principally in the nature of their subject matter. Original main motions bring business before the group. and incidental main motions bring a question again before the group. These motions are of the lowest rank and take precedence over no others. They fall within no list of precedence among themselves.

12.    Motions can also be classified according to purpose or special situation.

To modify motion:

To amend (Subsidiary)

To suppress debate or hasten action:

Call for orders of the day (Privileged) 
Limit debate (Subsidiary)
Previous question (Subsidiary)
Suspend rules (Incidental)  
Take from the table (Main)    
Make special order of business (Main)

To delay action: 
To lay on the table (Subsidiary) 
Postpone to a definite time (Subsidiary) 
Refer to committee (Subsidiary)

To prevent action:
Postpone indefinitely (Subsidiary)      
Object to consideration (Incidental)     
Withdraw a motion (Incidental)

To consider more carefully:
Extend debate (Subsidiary)   
Divide question (incidental)   
Committee of the whole (Incidental)

To change a decision:
Reconsider (Main)  
Rescind (Main)

To maintain rules and order:

Question of privilege (Privileged)    
Question of order (Incidental)
Appeal. from decision of chair (Incidental) 
Parliamentary inquiry (Incidental) 
Request for information (Incidental)

To close a meeting:  

To fix time of next meeting (Privileged)    
Adjourn (Privileged)     
Recess (Privileged)

Privileged Motions - Order of Precedence
Motion Applies to what motions Interrupt Speaker Needs second Amendable Debatable Can be reconsidered Required Vote
1. Fix time to adjourn None No Yes Yes Yes Yes Majority
2. To adjourn None No Yes No No No Majority
3. To recess None No Yes Yes No No Majority
4. Question of Privilege None Yes  No No No  No Chair
5. Call for orders of the day None Yes No No No No Chair


1. May be used to arrange for a special meeting. It is a required motion tor an organization without a regular time and place for assembly. Not debatable if a question is pending and no other meeting is scheduled tor the same or next day.

2. To adjourn means to close the meeting. In a group that meets regularly, this motion causes the business to come up before next meeting as unfinished business.

3. Amendable only as to length of recess, and debatable if moved while no business is pending.

4. Permits a request relating to the rights and privileges of the assembly or any of its members. Majority vote needed only if there is an objection to the Chair's decision.

5. Must be enforced on demand unless set aside by a two-thirds vote.

Subsidiary Motions - Order of Precedence
Motion Applies to what motion Interrupt Speaker Needs second Amendable Debatable Can be reconsidered Required Vote
6. To Table Main; amendments No Yes No  No No  Majority
7. Close Debate Any debatable question No  Yes No  No Yes 2/3rds
8. Extend or limit debate Any debatable question No Yes Yes No Yes 2/3rd
9. Postpone to definite time Pending question No  Yes Yes Yes Yes Majority
10. Refer to committee Main; amendments No Yes Yes  Yes  Yes  Majority
11. Postpone indefinitely Main motion No Yes No Yes No Majority


6. Enables the assembly to lay the pending question aside temporarily (at same meeting). This requires (later) a motion to "Take from the table."

7. If decision is affirmative, vote is taken first on amendments, and then on the main motion. Previous question may be limited to amendments only. In such cases, it affects only the amendment to which it applies. This still allows debate on the main motion. 

8. Motion sets hour for closing debate, limits length of debate, sets time for speeches. Or, it can allow more and longer speeches. 

9. Allows time for further study. Debate must be confined to its merits only.

10. Used to send pending question to a small group for careful investigation. Debate can extend only to the desirability of committing the main question and to the appropriate details of the motion to commit and not to the merits or the main question.

11. An amendment must be germane to be in order. To be germane, an amendment must in some way involve the same question that is raised by the motion to which it is applied. A secondary amendment must relate to the primary amendment in the same way. An amendment cannot introduce an independent question; but an amendment can be hostile to, or even defeat, the spirit of the original motion and still be germane. An amendment of the third degree is not permitted. The motion to amend is debatable whenever the motion to which it is applied is debatable. Requires a majority vote, even in cases where the question to be amended takes a two-thirds vote for adoption. A motion to amend by striking out an entire paragraph, section, article, main motion or resolution and inserting a different paragraph or other unit is called a motion to substitute (see below for discussion of motion to substitute). The paragraph to be struck out as well as the paragraph to be inserted or the unit offered as a substitute can be perfected by secondary amendments. 

12. Prevents action on the motion; kills the motion for the duration of the session and avoids a direct vote on the question.

Incidental Motions - No order of precedence
Motion Applies to what motion Interrupt speaker Needs second Amendable Debatable Can be reconsidered Required vote
13. Point of order Any error Yes No No  No No  Chair
14. Appeal Decision of Chair Yes Yes No Yes Yes Majority
15. Object to consideration Main; privileged Yes No No No Yes 2/3rd
16. Withdrawal of motion All No No No No Yes Chair/ Majority
17. Suspend the rules Any situation No Yes Yes No  No Majority
18. Divide the question Main; amendments No Yes Yes No No Majority
19. To make nominations Elections No No No No N Majority
20. Nominations Elections No Yes Yes No Yes Majority
21. Parliamentary inquiry No motion Yes No No No No Chair
22. Divide the assembly any vote Yes  No No No No  None
24. Point of information No motion Yes No  No No  No No vote
25. Committee of the whole Any situation No Yes No  Yes No  Majority


13. When a member thinks that the rules of the assembly are being violated, the member should call upon the Chair for a ruling and correction any irregularities.

14. Chair puts the question to the assembly: "Shall the decision of the Chair stand?" Majority in negative required to reverse Chair's decision. 

15. Must be introduced immediately after disputed motion has been stated and before debate begins. Chair then puts question of consideration to a vote. Negative vote (sustaining objection) only can be reconsidered.

16. Once motion has been made, seconded, and stated by the Chair, it becomes property of the group and cannot be withdrawn except by the Chair with general consent of the group. If motion is made, majority is required for adoption; negative vote only can be reconsidered.

17. The motion must be specific. Many parliamentary assemblies have special requirements concerning the suspension of rules. For example, the Constitution of the Faculty, California State University, Los Angeles, requires that a motion to waive the Academic Senate requirement that voting on substantive motions or amendments to such motions shall not take place until the meeting immediately following the introduction of the motion takes a three-fourths vote of those present. A standing rule of the California State University, Los Angeles Academic Senate requires that amendments to "third reading items" must be in writing. This requirement can be waived by a majority vote of those present. The Academic Senate of the California State University and Colleges By-Laws require that voting on a substantive motion may take place only when the report giving rise to the motion has been distributed at least two weeks in advance or only after a second reading of the motion at a meeting subsequent to the meeting at which it was first introduced. This requirement may be waived by a three-fourths vote of those present. 

18. This motion divides a complex main motion into distinct propositions and specifies the form of the division.

19. Used for election of officers. Majority for election unless By-Laws provide otherwise. Election cannot be reconsidered after person elected learns of it and has not declined.

20. Motions relating to nominations while election is pending. Motion to close nominations takes two­-thirds vote and cannot be reconsidered. A negative vote only can be reconsidered on a motion to reopen nominations. A motion relating to nominations made while election is not pending is a main motion.

21. Motions relating to voting while the subject is pending. A motion to close polls cannot be recon­sidered. A negative vote only on a motion to reopen polls can be reconsidered. A motion to order the vote by ballot takes a majority and can be reconsidered. A motion relating to voting made while no question is pending is a main motion.

22. A parliamentary inquiry is a question directed to the presiding officer on a matter of parliamentary­ law or the rules of the assembly. Its purpose is to assist members to make appropriate motions, raise a proper point of order, or understand the parliamentary situation or the effect of a motion.

23. Chair must comply. Any member has the right to demand a Division if the member believes it will obtain a more conclusive result.

24. Speaker may decide whether to yield to hear the question. A Point of Information is a request directed to the Chair, or through the Chair 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 allowed time. The Chair therefore asks if the speaker is willing to be interrupted. An inquiry of this kind may also be for the purpose of reminding a speaker of a point to be made in argument, or it may be intended to rebut his position; but it must always be put in the form of a question.

25. This motion is a form of the motion to commit. Can be reconsidered if committee has not begun consideration of referred question.

Main Motions - No order of precedence
Motion Applies to what motions Interrupt speaker Needs second Amendable Debatable Can be reconsidered Required vote
26. Main motion  - - - No Yes Yes Yes Yes Majority
27. Reconsider Main; amendments No Yes No No No Majority
28. Rescind, repeal Action taken No Yes Yes Yes Yes Majority/2/3rd
29. Take from the table Motion tabled No Yes No No No Majority
30. Special Order of business Pending motion No Yes Yes Yes Yes 2/3rd


26. An original main motion introduces a substantive question as a new subject. This is the motion most often used. It takes precedence over nothing, and yields to all subsidiary, all privileged, and all applicable incidental motions.

27. One who voted with the prevailing side must make the motion. Can be made only on the same day the vote to be reconsidered was taken or the next succeeding day. Debatable when the motion to be reconsidered is debatable. 

28. If vote is affirmative, "repeal" cannot be reconsidered. Takes majority with notice; two-thirds without notice; or majority of entire membership without notice. 

29. Motion previously tabled comes before the assembly tor renewed consideration.

30. Special proposal must be stated specifically. Establishes day and time for a question to be considered. A special order interrupts any business that is pending when that time arrives, except for motions to adjourn and recess or questions of privilege. 

Discussion of substitute motion:

The motion to substitute is very simple by its nature. The substitute motion is actually nothing more than a motion to amend by substituting a different wording for the original wording or a different motion for the original one. The difference between a motion to amend and the motion to substitute depends on the amount to be replaced. The motion to substitute is a motion to amend by striking out an entire main motion or resolution, entire paragraph, section or article. 

Although the amendment in the nature of a substitute, called a substitute motion is a valuable form of amendment, it is quite complicated in its procedure. When a motion to substitute is offered, the pending resolution is first open to improvement by amendment. Then opportunity is given to amend the proposed substitute, as Robert states, "so that both the pending resolution and the substitute may be put into the most desirable form before the vote is taken on whether the substitution 
shall be made." The motion to substitute is confusing because the parliamentary body has before it two different motions
each of which has the status of a main motion, which may still be amended. Obviously, the chair has the duty to see that only one of them is amended at any given time. The main motion can be amended with both primary and secondary amendments. However, because the substitute is a primary amendment, it is open 
only to secondary amendments. Debate on a motion to substitute can go into the merits of the original motion as well as the substitute. 

Rule of Order - Substitute Motion

Pending motion -- Motion to Substitute -- Amendments to pending motion -- Amendments to motion to substitute -- Debate on merits of pending and substitute motion --Vote on Motion to Substitute. 

If motion to substitute approved: Motion as amended by substitute -- Amendments to motion as amended (no substantive amendments to substitute) -- debate on motion as amended -- Vote on motion

If motion to substitute defeated: Pending motion -- Amendments, if any and debate on motion - Vote on motion.