Robert's Rules for Limiting and Extending Debate

2 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Robert's Rules for Subsidiary Motions

Robert's Rules allows a member to speak in debate twice on each motion — with up to ten minutes per speech! Even for small boards, that kind of rule can make for some l-o-o-o-ng meetings, especially if the motion is at all controversial and promotes lots of debate. But you don't have to stay up all night if you make use of the subsidiary motion to limit debate.

Your group may adopt special rules of order to circumscribe all debates, in which case you may want to use the motion to extend the limits of debate when a proposal really needs a thorough hearing and the rule hinders your need to discuss it at length.

A subsidiary motion to limit or extend the limits of debate

  • Can't interrupt a speaker who has the floor.

  • Must be seconded.

  • Isn't debatable.

  • Is amendable, but amendments are not debatable.

  • Requires a two-thirds vote (but is often adopted by unanimous consent).

  • Can be reconsidered if adopted.

  • However, the motion to reconsider is not debatable. Reconsideration of a failed subsidiary motion to limit or extend the limits of debate is in order as long as no material debate has progressed on the motion. If additional debate has occurred, a reconsideration vote is not necessary. The motion to limit or extend limits of debate just needs to be renewed.

A motion to limit or extend limits of debate affects a change in your adopted rules for debate in several different ways. Some of its more common uses are

  • To shorten, or lengthen, the maximum time members (or a single member) may speak in debate. You may move that each member be limited to a specific number of minutes per speech or granted an additional number of minutes or that a specific person be granted additional time.

  • To set the number of times a member may speak.

  • To set the total number of speeches each for and against the motion, and to set the maximum length for each speech. For example, you may say, "Madam President, I move that discussion be limited to two speakers for and two speakers against this motion, not to exceed three minutes per speech."

  • To define the total time allotted for discussion, or to define the time after which debate will be closed and voting will take place.

Other points about the motion to limit or extend the limits of debate:

  • Neither is allowed in committees.

  • Neither can be used to bring an immediate close to debate. (If you want to stop debate and vote, raise a previous question motion.)

  • Neither can be applied to any debatable motion or series of debatable motions, and if adopted, is termed an order limiting (or extending) debate. (When it expires, the order is said to be exhausted.)

  • Both are often adopted by unanimous consent, but if a vote is required, adopting the motion requires a two-thirds (rising) vote.

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The Essentials of Robert's Rules for Subsidiary Motions

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