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Question regarding Special Rules of Order


Bill W.
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Hello,

I am on a committee to review our organizations Bylaws.  As we were reviewing our parent organizations recommended text changes, a question was raised regarding the usage and application of Special Rules of Order.

Our current Bylaws state:

Article X - Parliamentary Authority

Section 1. In all matters not specifically covered by the provision of these Constitution and Bylaws, the rules contained in Robert's Rules of Order (Revised) shall govern the Club in all cases to which they are applicable.

The proposed Bylaws state:

Article X - Parliamentary Authority

Section 1. The rules contained in the current edition of "Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised," shall govern the club in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with these bylaws and any other special rules of order the club may adopt.

1st question: Under the current bylaws wording, is our organization permitted to adopt Special Rules of Order? 

2nd question. If Special Rules of Order are adopted, are they documented similar to our standing rules, or can/should/must they be made part of the bylaws?

Lastly, I'm having a difficult time grasping the concept of a special rule of order and how we are allowed to use them. I understand the difference between a special rule of order vs standing rule and also understand that an adopted special rule of order supersedes any rules of the parliamentary authority with which they may conflict. 

Specifically, my confusion lies with, Chapter I - Rules of Order, p15

 The usual and preferable method by which an ordinary society now provides itself with suitable rules of order is therefore to place in its bylaws a provision prescribing that the current edition of a specified and generally accepted manual of parliamentary law shall be the organization's parliamentary authority, and then to adopt only such special rules of order as it finds needed to supplement or modify rules contained in that manual. 

I understand the need to supplement or modify the rules for particular situations, i.e. limiting the length or number of speeches permitted each member in debate, but can a Special Rule of Order substantially change an existing rule in RONR?  What does "supplement and modify rules" mean specifically?

Example: Chapter XIII - Voting, p407

ABSTAINING FROM VOTING ON A QUESTION OF DIRECT PERSONAL INTEREST. No member should vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the organization. For example, if a motion proposes that the organization enter into a contract with a commercial firm of which a member of the organization is an officer and from which contract he would derive personal pecuniary profit, the member should abstain from voting on the motion. However, no member can be compelled to refrain from voting in such circumstances. 

Question 3: Could you adopt a Special Rule of Order that changed "should" to "shall" and struck the last sentence; now requiring a member to abstain from voting?  Is this allowed as a modification of an existing rule, or is it not allowed because it significantly changes the intent of the rule? 

If you got this far, thank you for your consideration of my questions.

Regards,

Bill W

 

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Answering as I read along.

Question 1:  Strictly speaking, no, but your current Article X, Section 1 is probably more honored in the breach than the observance.  Your proposed change -- straight out of the book, of course -- is infinitely better.

Question 2:  Document your Special (and Standing) Rules and attach the document to any and all copies of the bylaws, but don't turn "your" rules into formal provisions of your bylaws.  Much easier to make changes in the future. Page 17, line 11ff.

Implicit Question  (I think): Yes, any one of "your" rules (Standing or Special depending on their application) can change RONR's rules any way you like. (Even to the detriment of your organization, so take care.)  So the answer to Question 3 is "Yes". If you want to change the intent of RONR's rule by changing "should" to "shall", go for it.  But use caution.  And be ready for nasty questions, such as: If a member is forced to abstain (by your rule) does he/she count toward the quorum during the time or moment he is abstaining?  With sparse attendance, this could make a big difference.  If he is forced to abstain, may he still participate in debate on the question?  Offer amendments" &c.

Jeffersion's good advice:  Don't change RONR for light and transient causes.

Edited by jstackpo
Supplied page reference.
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I wonder whether the answer to Bill W's question 1 is, in fact, a 'no'. Even though the bylaw as written does not reference special rules of order, RONR certainly does. It seems to me that adopting RONR as a parliamentary authority gives the organization the right to adopt special rules of order, as well as the procedure to do so. RONR also stipulates that any such special rules of order will supercede the rule as stated in the parliamentary authority; therefore creating a case in which the rule as stated in RONR is no longer applicable.

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I agree with Bruce Lages.  I think the answer to question 1 is "yes", the society may adopt special rules of order that supersede the rules in the adopted parliamentary authority, "Robert's Rules of Order Revised" (ROR).  I say this for two reasons:

First, ROR (Robert's Rules of Order Revised) makes plain on page 268 in Section 67 that a society may adopt "special rules of order as are needed to supplement their parliamentary authority".  So, relying on the plain text of ROR, a society may adopt special rules of order.

Second, the 11th edition of RONR provides, on an unnumbered page where it tells us how to cite the book, as follows:  "This Eleventh Edition supersedes all previous editions and is intended automatically to become the parliamentary authority in organizations whose bylaws prescribe "Robert's Rules of Order," "Robert's Rules of Order Revised," "Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised," or "the current edition of" any of these titles, or the like, without specifying a particular edition."

Therefore, regardless of whether this society is governed by ROR or the 11th edition of RONR, they both make plain that a society may adopt such special rules of order as it deems necessary and that those special rules or order supersede contrary provisions in the parliamentary authority.

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In defense of "No"...

Although the book (ROR or RONR) says they "can" adopt Special Rules, the quoted bylaw bylaw is specific that the rules IN the book (and bylaws) are they ones they have to follow.   Since an adopted  Special Rule is manifestly NOT in the book it would be improper to adopt and follow one.

The second version of the "Parl Authority" bylaw allows for other rules and takes care of the non-book rules.

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2 minutes ago, jstackpo said:

In defense of "No"...

Although the book (ROR or RONR) says they "can" adopt Special Rules, the quoted bylaw bylaw is specific that the rules IN the book (and bylaws) are they ones they have to follow.   (Remainder of post omitted)

And one of those rules in the book (both books) is that a society can adopt special rules of order which supersede the rules in the book.   I also believe it is the inherent right of a society to adopt special rules of order regardless of whether it is specifically permitted by the adopted parliamentary authority... as long as it isn't specifically prohibited.

Perhaps this is ultimately a question of bylaws interpretation, but if I had a vote in the matter, I would vote that the adoption of special rules of order under the current bylaw provision is in order. 

All of this may actually be moot since the society is considering the adoption of different language which will clearly permit the adoption of special rules of order.

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14 hours ago, Bruce Lages said:

I wonder whether the answer to Bill W's question 1 is, in fact, a 'no'. Even though the bylaw as written does not reference special rules of order, RONR certainly does. It seems to me that adopting RONR as a parliamentary authority gives the organization the right to adopt special rules of order, as well as the procedure to do so. RONR also stipulates that any such special rules of order will supercede the rule as stated in the parliamentary authority; therefore creating a case in which the rule as stated in RONR is no longer applicable.

I also agree.  When a society adopts a parliamentary authority, it is permitted to do things authorized by that authority.  RONR is clear that, even after it is adopted by society, the society may adopt procedural rules that will supersede RONR, in most cases. 

On one point, however, I disagree.  A society has an inherent right to adopt rules, unless that is limited by the bylaws or some higher level rule.  If the society had no parliamentary authority, it could adopt special rules of order.  RONR is clear that an entire parliamentary authority may be adopted, even if there is no authorization in the bylaws to do so (p. 15, ll. 28-32).  A society does not need authorization in RONR nor its bylaws to exercise its rule-making ability. 

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16 hours ago, Bill W. said:

1st question: Under the current bylaws wording, is our organization permitted to adopt Special Rules of Order? 

2nd question. If Special Rules of Order are adopted, are they documented similar to our standing rules, or can/should/must they be made part of the bylaws?

The society is free to adopt special rules of order and such rules are not part of the bylaws.

16 hours ago, Bill W. said:

I understand the need to supplement or modify the rules for particular situations, i.e. limiting the length or number of speeches permitted each member in debate, but can a Special Rule of Order substantially change an existing rule in RONR?  What does "supplement and modify rules" mean specifically?

Generally, it means you can adopt rules which modify the rules in the parliamentary authority in whatever manner you see fit, even if this completely changes the original rule. It should be noted, however, that there are some cases in which the rules in RONR are considered to be so fundamental that they may only be superseded by a rule in the bylaws.

16 hours ago, Bill W. said:

Question 3: Could you adopt a Special Rule of Order that changed "should" to "shall" and struck the last sentence; now requiring a member to abstain from voting?  Is this allowed as a modification of an existing rule, or is it not allowed because it significantly changes the intent of the rule? 

In my opinion, a rule which forces members to abstain in certain cases must be in the bylaws, but this has nothing to do with the fact that it “significantly changes the intent of the rule.” It is because the right to vote is so fundamental that members may only be deprived of it by formal disciplinary procedures or a rule in the bylaws. 

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2 hours ago, Josh Martin said:

The society is free to adopt special rules of order and such rules are not part of the bylaws.

Generally, it means you can adopt rules which modify the rules in the parliamentary authority in whatever manner you see fit, even if this completely changes the original rule. It should be noted, however, that there are some cases in which the rules in RONR are considered to be so fundamental that they may only be superseded by a rule in the bylaws.

In my opinion, a rule which forces members to abstain in certain cases must be in the bylaws, but this has nothing to do with the fact that it “significantly changes the intent of the rule.” It is because the right to vote is so fundamental that members may only be deprived of it by formal disciplinary procedures or a rule in the bylaws. 

While I would not use the word "fundamental,"  I agree.  The only exceptions might be if the bylaws are silent on membership or if they would permit such a rule to be adopted at a lower level, i.e. a special rule.  I have seen the second one occur.

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