Guest calbear_77

About "Table"

3 posts in this topic

I want to pick the board's mind about the motion to lay on the table. The RONR definition is subject to common misuse, and this is prompted by its official usage in the preeminent parliamentary institutions of the nation and its inherent susceptibility to such abuse.

The US Congress, many state legislatures, and many county/municipal governing bodies use the motion to table as a mechanism to kill a main motion. This definition of "table" has entered common usage. The common understanding is so widespread, that RONR spends two paragraphs warning against it. If RONR is meant to be a descriptive codification of common parliamentary procedure in the United States, then why does it stand bulwark against definition accepted by both the legislatures and the masses? On a tangential note, the second most common use of "table" I've encountered is in place of "postpone to a certain time" (e.g. "let's table this resolution to next week"); the RONR definition comes in at a far third place . 

If RONR is a prescriptive project, aiming to create an ideal set of rules which promote a set of equitable values, then "table" seems ripe for abuse. It is undebatable, requires only a majority to pass, and relegates the main motion to a netherworld from which it can only come back by another majority vote. Reforms to "table" which could make it more suitable for its stated purpose could include (a) having the matin motion automatically resume after the urgent interrupting matter is dealt with, (b) allowing the main motion to resume at the request of any one member if no other motion is pending, (b) having the main motion be automatically postponed to old business at the next meeting of the body if it is not taken from the table by the end of the current meeting or, (c) more radically, combining it with the motion to "postpone".

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42 minutes ago, Guest calbear_77 said:

If RONR is meant to be a descriptive codification of common parliamentary procedure in the United States, then why does it stand bulwark against definition accepted by both the legislatures and the masses?

Robert's Rules of Order was never intended to be purely descriptive, nor purely prescriptive. As stated in the Introduction to RONR (11th ed., pp. xliii-xliv): "Writing such a manual as Robert envisioned would amount to weaving into a single whole a statement of existing parliamentary law and a set of proposed rules of order. His idea was that the book should be written in a form suitable for adoption by any society, without interfering with the organization's right to adopt any special rules it might require. In the manual, rules taken from the practice of the House should be used except in specific cases where analysis showed that some other rule was better for the conditions in an ordinary organization—which did not, for example, have the enormous volume of business to be handled, the sharp division along party lines, or the extended length of congressional sessions with daily meetings."

The specific answers to your question about Lay on the Table can be found in the paragraphs of RONR that you alluded to, which I will reprint here for the reading pleasure of those who won't trouble themselves to pick up the book and take a look.

p. 210, ll. 5-14: "By adopting the motion to Lay on the Table, a majority has the power to halt consideration of a question immediately without debate. Such action violates the rights of the minority and individual members if it is for any other purpose than the one stated in the first sentence of this section. In ordinary assemblies, the motion to Lay on the Table is out of order if the evident intent is to kill or avoid dealing with a measure. If a time for resuming consideration is specified in making the motion, it can be admitted only as a motion to Postpone, in which case it is debatable."

p. 215, ll. 10-12 and footnote: "As stated at the beginning of this section, the motion to Lay on the Table is subject to a number of incorrect uses that should be avoided.*"

"*Some misuses of the motion to Lay on the Table probably arise from a misunderstanding of the practice of the United States House of Representatives, where this motion has gradually become converted to a special purpose that is not applicable in ordinary assemblies. The press of legislation in the House is so great that only a fraction of the bills introduced each year can be considered. With this volume of work under the two-party system in such a large body, the majority must be given power to suppress a measure without debate, and the agenda must be tightly regulated. The House rules therefore do not allow a question to be taken from the table without first suspending the rules by a two-thirds vote. Consequently, when a matter is laid on the table in the House it is virtually killed."

p. 216, ll. 3-10: "The motion to Lay on the Table is often incorrectly used and wrongly admitted as in order with the intention of either killing an embarrassing question without a direct vote, or of suppressing a question without debate. The first of these two uses is unsafe if there is any contest on the issue; the second is in violation of a basic principle of general parliamentary law that only a two-thirds vote can rightfully suppress a main question without allowing free debate."

1 hour ago, Guest calbear_77 said:

Reforms to "table" which could make it more suitable for its stated purpose could include (a) having the matin motion automatically resume after the urgent interrupting matter is dealt with, (b) allowing the main motion to resume at the request of any one member if no other motion is pending, (b) having the main motion be automatically postponed to old business at the next meeting of the body if it is not taken from the table by the end of the current meeting or, (c) more radically, combining it with the motion to "postpone".

If the motion is used for its proper purpose, then no reforms are necessary. The assembly has decided, without debate, to set aside the matter and it is up to the assembly to decide, without debate, when it should be brought back. Of course there is nothing wrong with the chair or a member reminding the assembly that there is some motion still lying on the table, but I think it would be futile to try to prescribe when a particular motion that has specifically been laid on the table should automatically be brought back for consideration.

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