Parliamentary Procedure

The purpose of parliamentary procedure is to enable members to take care of business in an efficient manner and to maintain order while business is conducted. When everyone knows the rules, meetings run smoothly and productively. In an organized PTA, more members will make and discuss motions, and more members will be willing to serve as officers and committee chairmen. No one wants to be an officer of an out-of-control PTA. Take control of your PTA by letting the Rules do it! Robert's Rules of Order is the official parliamentary guide of the California State PTA.

Why do you need Robert's Rules of Order? The basic principles behind the Rules are:

  • Someone has to facilitate or direct the discussion and keep order during a meeting.
  • All members of the group have the right to bring up ideas, discuss them, and come to a conclusion.
  • Members should come to an agreement about what to do.
  • Members should understand that the majority rules, but that the rights of the minority are always protected by assuring them the right to speak and to vote.

Robert's Rules of Order, courtesy of Webster's New World:

For an organization to survive and grow, the democratic model has been proven to be the best form of government.

  • The members rule through a decision-making process that they've established by a vote. This is government by the consent of the governed.
  • Ideas come from the members and are presented to the assembly to decide upon. Everyone gets the right to present, speak to, and vote on ideas. The unit's Standing Rules will determine how much notice the president needs to put an item on the agenda. Issues that are new to the board may be tabled for committee discussion and recommendation.
  • Leaders come from the people through an election process. All members have the right to be considered for office.
  • Checks and balances between the leadership and the members are established in the governing documents.
  • All members are equal - they have equal rights and responsibilities.
  • The organization is run with impartiality and fairness.
  • There is equal justice under the law; members and officers have a right to a fair trial if accused. Written procedures exist for removing and replacing an officer when the officer doesn't fulfill his/her duties.
  • The majority rules, but the rights of the minority and absent members are protected.
  • Everything is accomplished in the spirit of openness, not secrecy. Members have the right to know what is going on within the organization by attending meetings (association meetings) inspecting the official records, and receiving notices and reports from committees, officers, and boards.
  • Members have the right to resign from office or from the organization.

The Business Meeting

Like most people, members in a business meeting can do only one thing at a time. Therefore, the first principle of parliamentary procedure is that business is taken up one item at a time.

  • Each meeting follows an order of business called an agenda. Each item of the agenda is taken in order and disposed of before going on to the next item.
  • Only one main motion can be pending at a time.
  • When a main motion is pending, members may make motions from a class of motions called secondary motions. Secondary motions amend, postpone or refer to committee a main motion.
  • Only one member can be assigned the floor at a time.
  • Members take turns speaking.
  • No member speaks twice about a motion until all members have had the opportunity to speak.

Accepted Order of Business:

  • The minutes of the previous meeting are read and approved.
  • The reports of officers, boards, standing committees (those listed in the bylaws), and special committees are read/presented and discussed.
  • Any special orders (such as nominations and elections) are presented.
  • Unfinished business and general orders are discussed.
  • The members proceed to new business.
  • When agenda items are finished and the members have no further business to propose, the meeting is adjourned.

Meeting Basics

All meetings have:

  • A quorum for any business to take place (votes).
  • Someone in charge of conducting the meeting.
  • Someone to take minutes.
  • Business is conducted according to specific rules that state who can attend, who can participate in discussions, and who can vote.
  • All members notified of the meeting's date, time and purpose.

Board meetings:

  • Members do not have to stand; they can speak while seated.
  • Members can speak any number of times, and there is usually no motion to close debate.
  • Members can discuss a subject while no motion is pending.
  • Members must vote on proposed board actions just like assemblies. A voice vote or show of hands is sufficient.
  • The chairman/president doesn't have to stand up to put a question to a vote. He or she can enter into the discussion and can remain seated while conducting the meeting.

The small meeting or committee meeting:

Here are some helpful techniques for managing a small meeting so that you can accomplish what you set out to do in an efficient, timely manner.

  • Start the meeting on time. Don't allow latecomers to waste the time of those who arrive promptly.
  • Explain the purpose of the meeting and what you hope to accomplish.
  • Include in the meeting all the people involved in solving the problem.
  • Set a meeting time and place that is convenient for all attendees.
  • Allow a reasonable amount of time to accomplish the meeting's objectives and stick to the schedule. Follow the agenda to cover each item as quickly as possible. Don't allow the discussion to wander.
  • Someone should take minutes or notes on what the committee decides to do. At the end of the meeting, summarize the agreed-upon plans. End the meeting on time.


Motions are tools that enable an organization to accomplish business efficiently and smoothly. They are the means of bringing business before the assembly, disposing of it quickly, and resolving matters of procedure and urgency. There are five classes of motions.

The first class - main motions - is used to present new business. The second class of motions, secondary motions - subsidiary, privileged, and incidental motions - can either help adopt the main motion or help business move forward according to the members' wishes. The last class of motions returns a motion to the assembly for reconsideration. Each class of motion has a certain purpose and is assigned an order in which it can be brought up at a meeting.

The main motion brings up new business; it needs a second, is debatable and amendable, and takes a majority vote to adopt. A main motion is phrased in the positive. Only one main motion can be pending at a time. A procedural main motion does not introduce a new topic; it deals with procedural questions arising out of pending motions or business.

The second class of motions is called secondary motions , and they are subsidiary, privileged and incidental. Secondary motions help the assembly decide what to do with the main motion or how to get things done in the meeting. (1) A subsidiary motion helps the assembly dispose of the main motion. Examples of subsidiary motions are: lay on the table, previous question, limit or extend debate, postpone to a certain time, refer to a committee, amend, and postpone indefinitely.

(2) Privileged motions relate to immediate matters not affecting the main motion and include: fix adjournment time, adjourn, recess, raise a question of privilege (welfare of individual or assembly), call for order of the day (stick to the agenda.) (3) Incidental motions deal with questions of procedure and do not affect the main motion and include: point of order, appeal, division of assembly, requests and inquiries, suspend the rules, division of the question. For more on these somewhat technical terms, the book itself is most enlightening.

The third class of motions brings a motion back before the assembly. The motion may previously have been laid on the table and is brought back to the table, it may request reconsideration of the vote previously taken, it can rescind the action, and it can amend something previously adopted. It needs a second and is debatable except for take from the table, which is not debatable.

Before you present a motion, make sure that it contains all the pertinent information, including who, what, where and when. If you leave out information, amendments may be necessary. Word the motion in the positive, not in the negative. Example: Madam president, I move that we have a picnic on Saturday, June 15 th at 3 PM in the park. Another member seconds the motion: I second the motion. Or simply: Second. If there is no second, the president says, "Without a second the motion will not be considered."

The president restates the motion, which is called "placing the motion before the assembly." Example: It has been moved and seconded that we have a picnic on Saturday, June 15 th at 3 PM in the park. Is there any discussion?

The most important phrases in the preceding paragraphs are: I MOVE THAT... and... IT IS MOVED AND SECONDED THAT...IS THERE ANY DISCUSSION?  

Members always have the right to debate or discuss a main motion. The person who makes the motion has the first right to speak to the motion. Others can discuss it in turn. The president calls for the vote and announces it. Most voting takes place by voice vote. The president always asks for a "no" vote even though the "aye" vote may sound unanimous. The president does not ask for those who want to abstain, since those votes do not count one way or another. The majority vote is calculated by those who voted and not by those who are present. For example, in a meeting of 12 members, if there are 4 "ayes" and 3 "no's," the motion will pass by a majority vote even though 5 people did not vote. Abstaining gives no opinion at all. It's as if you were not there. The president has no vote except to make a tie or break a tie.

Not every motion is in order. It is not in order if it conflicts with the law, with the rules of the parent organization, or with the bylaws of the organization. It is not in order if it conflicts with the objective of the organization unless overridden by a 2/3 vote of the members. A motion is not in order if it conflicts with a motion that was previously adopted by the members that is still in force. The motion can be phrased to amend the previously adopted motion. A motion cannot be brought up for the second time in the same meeting for essentially the same thing or for an item still under the control of the members. It may be brought up at a different meeting.

When things are not quite as harmonious as they should be...

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.: Does a president of the board have the authority to refuse to let an issue come before the board?

A.: No, a president does not have this authority unless your organization has a written rule that says otherwise. The president can rule a motion out of order if it conflicts with your bylaws. He or she can also "object to consideration of the question," but that does not prevent the motion from coming before the board.

Q .: Does the president of the board have the right to deny a guest member permission to speak at a board meeting?

A.: Board meetings are usually conducted in executive session, which means only members of the board can attend. Any other person would have to be invited, and that person would probably have special knowledge of a topic to be considered. The person would speak and then leave the meeting while debate was taking place. If the person has no special knowledge to impart, he or she would have no reason to speak.

Q.: One of our members constantly causes problems because he and his wife don't like the president. What can we do to stop him?

A.: Your president was voted in by a majority of the members and deserves everyone's support. A democracy requires all members to abide by the majority rule even if they did not vote with the majority. The most diplomatic tactic is to talk with these people and try to persuade them to be cooperative and encourage them to work with the president. These members need to see how detrimental their actions are to the entire organization.

Q.: Can a member of the board bring items to the floor if the president refuses to put them on the agenda?

A.: Yes. The agenda should follow a standard order of business and should include unfinished and new business. If the president is uninformed, perhaps you can privately show him or her the order of business in your parliamentary authority. If the president is a tyrant who wants to do things his or her way, rise to a parliamentary inquiry and ask why no unfinished or new business is on the agenda. You can then ask for items to be put on the agenda. Further steps are required if the president does not add unfinished or new business to the agenda. See your parliamentary manual for details.

Q.: Can anyone nominate someone for office?

A.: After the nominating committee gives its report, the president asks if there are any further nominations. At this time, any member can nominate someone from the floor. If there are two people running for the same office, PTA rules say that a ballot vote must be taken. The secretary should always have ballots ready in the case of more than one nominee per office. The Toolkit has several excellent pages on nominating committees and the election process.


Main motions:

"I move that..."

"It is moved and seconded that...Is there any discussion?"


"All those in favor say "Aye." Those opposed say "no."

"The ayes have it, and the motion is carried. We will be doing..."

or "The no's have it and the motion does not pass."


When a member doubts the result of a voice vote, the member calls out: "Division."

"A division has been called for. All those in favor of the motion please rise. Be seated. All those opposed please rise. Be seated." Announce the vote.

Subsidiary motions:

"I move the motion be postponed indefinitely."

"It is moved and seconded to postpone the motion indefinitely. Is there any discussion?"

"All those in favor of postponing indefinitely say "Aye." Those opposed say "no."" Announce the result.  


"I move to amend the motion by adding at the striking out and inserting..."

"It is moved and seconded to amend the motion by... Is there any discussion on the proposed amendment?"

Refer to a Committee:

"I move to refer the motion to the --- committee, to do --- and report back at the next meeting."

"All those in favor of referring the motion to the committee..."

Other motions:

"I move to postpone the motion to---specific time or date."

"I move to limit the debate to---time."

"I move to extend the debate to---time."

"I move the previous question." (to close the debate) or "I move to close the debate."

"I move to lay the motion on the table because --- state reason." This introduces new business.

"I move that the meeting recess until---a later time."

"I move to adjourn."

"I move to take from the table the motion..." (no longer discussed or voted upon)

"I move to rescind the motion that was adopted to do..." (This motion requires a second. It rescinds a previously adopted position.)

"I move to amend the motion that was previously adopted at the last meeting by...striking out... and inserting..." (amends a position previously adopted)

For more information, please access: