About this blog...

Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Motion You'll Probably Never Need

Most manuals of parliamentary procedure contain a list of motions in order of precedence. Among the highest of privileged motions is the motion "to lay on the table" - or, in the more common shorthand description - the motion "to table" the current item of business. (The actual Table at the center of Britain's House of Commons is pictured to the right.)

"Let's table that" is a statement frequently heard in parliamentary meetings, from the town council to the P.T.A. - and, yes, sometimes even in Session meetings. The effect of such a motion is to set the current motion aside, freezing it in its current amended or unamended state, until such time as the body wishes to take it up again.

If the body takes up a tabled motion at a later time, debate is resumed at exactly the point at which the motion to table was made. For example, if a proposed amendment to the main motion was being debated, the body will be begin consideration of the un-tabled motion by continuing its debate on the proposed amendment.

If a tabled motion is never re-introduced, it dies.

The motion to lay on the table is perfectly legal, but it can be used in underhanded ways. It's a very powerful motion, taking precedence over most others. It's undebatable, and requires a simple majority vote to pass.

I'm of the opinion that the motion to table should almost never be used. Maybe if the building's on fire, or if Bruce Springsteen's just walked into the room and has offered to sing a solo (but only in the next five minutes, because he's born to run). That's about it. For most everything else, forget it.

In other words, the motion to table could be useful in the rare situation in which something unexpected has happened, and the wisdom of tabling is perfectly clear to everyone.

In almost every other situation, there's a much better alternative: the motion to postpone. Unlike the motion to table, it is debatable.

Debate on a motion to postpone can ONLY be about the wisdom of postponing. If the body begins to slip back into general debate on the merits of the motion itself, the moderator should blow the whistle and remind those in attendance to confine their comments to the question of whether or not postponement is wise.

There are two variations of this motion: to postpone definitely or indefinitely. A definite postponement specifies when the body will take the motion up again, usually at the same meeting or at the next meeting (if other stated meetings are already scheduled, the item can be definitely postponed even further into the future). An indefinite postponement, on the other hand, is vague and open-ended: if no one ever moves to take the item up again, it dies.

Of the two, the motion to postpone definitely is usually the better choice.

In a meeting, if someone moves to table something (and before there has been a second), you as Clerk can swiftly alert the moderator to the fact that a motion to postpone is also possible, and is usually fairer than the motion to table. This will often result in a different motion, one that's more likely to leave all parties feeling like they have been heard and have been treated with respect.

No comments:

Post a Comment