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Raise a Question of Privilege with Robert's Rules

More often than not, the motion to Raise a Question of Privilege is made to solve some immediate problem of particular and immediate annoyance to the group. But this motion covers other situations, too.

Plenty of situations can arise during meetings that keep members from being comfortable or able to concentrate on the business at hand. Such is the nature of meetings. Air conditioners are set too low or too high, there’s noise out in the hall, or a group of members is abuzz about something and you can’t hear the discussion. Anything that affects the comfort of the assembly can be dealt with on the request of one member who raises a question of privilege.

Here are the two types of questions of privilege:

  • Ones dealing with matters that affect the entire group. Examples include the physical comfort of members, questions about the organization, questions about the conduct of its officers or employees, and questions about the accuracy of published reports.

  • Ones dealing with matters that affect an individual. An example of this type is an inaccurate report of something a member has said or done.

Use the motion to Raise a Question of Privilege

There you sit, seventh row from the back in a small and crowded meeting hall. The meeting of the Association of Seersucker Beanbag Manufacturers is underway, and the group is debating an important motion. Some bonehead is out in the hall talking about his recent foot surgery, and you’re not only disgusted, but you’re also unable to concentrate on the debate.

What to do? Easy! Raise a question of privilege! Stand up and (interrupting the current speaker because you just don’t want to miss anything more of what’s being said) say, “Mr. Chairman, I rise to a question of privilege affecting the assembly. There is a loud disturbance coming from the hall, and a large number of us cannot hear or concentrate on the discussion.”

The chair should say, “Will someone please ask the members in the hall to remove the conversation from the doorway, and please close the doors to the hall?”

The privileged motion to Raise a Question of Privilege is one of those motions that rarely involve more than just a decision by the chair. It may be used to introduce a motion that the group needs to decide immediately.

Suppose you’re in a board meeting, and the executive director and two committee chairmen, none of whom is a board member, are present. The executive director has just finished her report, and serious problems with her job performance are apparent.

You want to make a motion to consider her continued employment at a change in salary, and you believe only the board members should be in the room when you make the motion. So you raise a question of privilege relating to the assembly so that the group can decide immediately whether to go into executive session and consider your motion.

The question of whether to go into executive session and take up your motion immediately is the question of privilege; the motion you make concerning the executive director is just a main motion whose immediate consideration is made possible by raising the question of privilege.

Rarely is anything other than a motion affecting the physical comfort of the members in a meeting properly used as a privileged motion (which can interrupt pending business).

Six key characteristics of the motion to Raise a Question of Privilege

The motion to Raise a Question of Privilege

  • Can interrupt a speaker who has the floor, but only if the motion’s object would be lost by waiting. Otherwise, the motion can interrupt pending business, but the member offering it must first obtain recognition by the chair.

  • Doesn’t need to be seconded, but if the solution to the problem being addressed requires another motion, that motion needs to be seconded.

  • Isn’t debatable regarding whether to allow the question of privilege, but if the privilege, when granted, puts a main motion before the assembly, then that main motion is debatable.

  • Can’t be amended regarding whether to allow the question of privilege, but if the privilege, when granted, puts a main motion before the assembly, then that main motion is amendable.

  • Is decided (ruled on) by the chair.

  • Can’t be reconsidered if it’s the chair’s decision (ruling).

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