A Call to Order

In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the naïve Mr. Smith yields the Senate floor out of courtesy to a colleague, In doing so he loses his ability to debate on his legislation to prevent graft and corruption,  Mr. Smith learned the hard way about the importance of knowing procedural rules. Officers and members of boards and and associations need to know the rules of order to achieve their goals and help their enterprises succeed. Our expertise includes:

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Call out the sheriff! Legislators on the lamb!

Madison, WI -- Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker needs to balance the budget, and he wants to do it by cutting spending and eliminating certain collective bargaining procedures of various government unions. His budget bill is being taken up by the Wisconsin State Senate where Republicans hold the majority of 19 to 14. But, fiscal bills require a quorum of three-fifths (60%) of the Senate members or 19.8 rounded to 20. Democrats have fled the state of Wisconsin to prevent a vote from being taken that they know they will lose.

The State Republican  Senator Scott Fitzgerald made a motion for a call of the Senate. The motion for a call of the house in general parliamentary procedure requires, if adopted, the Sergeant at Arms lock to the doors of the assembly, after which a roll call is taken to find out who is present and more importantly who is absent without excuse. Those who are absent without excuse can be arrested and brought to the assembly. Generally, legislative bodies  are the only types of assemblies that have the power to enforce a motion for a call of the the house. The Wisconsin State Senate has this authority. So now, 14 Democrat Senators are on the lamb and generally believed to be in Illinois.

The last time I can remember this happening was in Texas in 2004 when the Texas legislature was about to take a vote on the redistricting plan put together by the Republican controlled legislature. The Democrat members of the Texas legislature fled to Louisiana to prevent a quorum from being present and thereby stalling the plan from being implemented. (Needless to say, if the plan were implemented Democrats stood to lose some seats.) The Texas Rangers gathered up a posse to round up the fleeing legislators. You can't help but chuckle at the thought of a posse of Texas Rangers on horses chasing down those delinquent legislators!

The mere fact that a motion for a call of the house exists says something about us humans and the lengths that we're willing to go to have our way. Back at our nation's founding, one of the charges against King George in the Declaration of Independence was that "HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures." Of course this was considered unfair.  I wonder what the founders would say of the actions of  either of the  Wisconsin Democrats or the Texas Democrats?



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Independence Hall, Philadelphia,PA is where the Second Continental Congress debated and passed the Declaration of Independence, and where the Constitutional Convention debated and adoped the U.S. Constitution.

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In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the naïve Mr. Smith yields the Senate floor out of courtesy to a colleague, In doing so he loses his ability to debate on his legislation to prevent graft and corruption,  Mr. Smith learned the hard way about the importance of knowing procedural rules. Officers and members of boards and and associations need to know the rules of order to achieve their goals and help their enterprises succeed. Our expertise includes:

  • Meeting and Session Governance Services
  • Presiding Officer Services
  • Delegate Convention or Assembly Services
  • Strategic Procedural Planning Services
  • Bylaw Drafting, Review, and Revision Services
  • Written Opinions Services
  • Training Programs





Independence Hall, Philadelphia,PA is where the Second Continental Congress debated and passed the Declaration of Independence, and where the Constitutional Convention debated and adoped the U.S. Constitution.

A Call to Order

Defense v. deficit top debate in Congress: House rule on debate offers private boards and associations a model

by Bylaw Bill Gillmeister on 03/25/15

The U.S. House of Representatives today will debate and vote on their fiscal year 2016 Budget for the federal government. The top issue for the majority Republicans pits defense and deficit hawks against each other and should provide for animated and worthy debate. In the meantime, it offers boards and private association some wisdom in dealing with resolutions and strong opinions in debate.

The Congress has one of the most refined set of procedural rules, parliamentary rules, of any legislative body in the world. When a significant piece of legislation comes to the floor, a resolution that establishes the procedural rules for debate, amendment and passage comes with it. The House Rules Committee offers the resolution, which is the first thing that gets voted on. In the case of the 2016 Budget, House Resolution (HR) 163 offers these rules.

Among many things, most prominent in HR 163 are four amendments which are substitutes for the Budget offered by the Budget Committee. The final two substitutes offer the competing budgets in the defense-deficit debate. The deficit hawks support the first of the final two and the defense hawks support the second. The order is critical as HR 163 states:

“[House Resolution 163] provides that if more than one such amendment is adopted, then only the one receiving the greater number of affirmative votes shall be considered as finally adopted. In the case of a tie for the greater number of affirmative votes, then only the last amendment to receive that number of affirmative votes shall be considered as finally adopted.”

That is, whichever receives the plurality wins and if it’s tie, the final amendment voted on wins the day. The lobbyists have their day cut out for them!

HR 163 echoes Robert’s Rules of Order when considering amendments to bylaws that seek to amend the same provision in the bylaws or that offer differing amendments that deal with the same problem. Each version or resolution must come to the floor for debate and Robert’s lays out procedures for dealing with this generally ordering the amendments from least inclusive to most inclusive, so that the last one winning adoption is the effective amendment.

Similarly, HR 163 first provides that a plurality vote adopts, and when a tie, the last one voted on is adopted. The difference is that the Congress is dealing with a budget resolution and the procedure in Robert’s can only be applied to bylaws amendments. The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure defines a motion to Adopt in-lieu-of which allows a resolutions committee the ability to review competing resolutions, and synthesize them into one resolution which is moved in lieu of the others.

Boards and associations may find it useful to adopt a set of annual meeting rules that deal with competing resolutions in a similar manner that the U.S. House has done in dealing with the 2016 Budget.

What's a "paliamentarian?" Aren't they in Great Britain?

by Bylaw Bill Gillmeister on 10/22/13

Yes, I'm sure there are parliamentarians in Great Britain, but a parliamentarian is considerably different from a member of the British Parliament! A parliamentarian attempts to help meetings go better by applying procedural rules that meeting members agree to ahead time to make decisions.

One of the best rules is to limit the number of times and the amount of time each member can speak to, say, two times for two minutes. Have you ever been in a meeting where one member goes on and on and on? You sure could have used a rule this to prevent this from happening. This rule is generally called a limit to debate.

Many similar rules exist and have been compiled in various manuals of parliamentary procedure. The most famous is Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised. Arguabley the most famous person to have ever compiled such a manual is Thomas Jefferson who, in 1801, published the first uniquely American Manual of Parliamentary Practice

He wrote and published this manual after years of serving in various legislative bodies including the Continental Congress. Many of these bodies had developed their own rules out of necessity to reach decisions in an organized and efficient manner. Our Founding Fathers saw the need to establish rules for the efficient and organized conduct of meetings.

Parliamentarians are indeed a critical element to successful meetings.