Robert's Rules for Referring a Motion to Committee

If a motion needs to be discussed much more informally or at greater length than is possible in a regular meeting, Robert's Rules allows you to refer the motion to a committee, or perhaps to the executive board of your group by adopting the subsidiary motion to commit. For all but the most simple and direct of motions, everyone's interests may be best served by referring a motion instead of spending a lot of meeting time on discussion.

A motion to commit

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

  • Must be seconded.

  • Is debatable. (Permissible debate is restricted to the pros and cons of making the referral and not to whether the main motion has merit.)

  • Can be amended, specifically the committee selection details and any instructions given to the committee.

  • Requires a majority vote.

  • Can be reconsidered if adopted and the committee has not begun its work. (If the group wants to terminate the committee's involvement with the subject after it has begun its work, the proper motion is to discharge a committee.)

Using the motion to commit

It's a simple process, but before you make the motion, you need to give it a little thought and ask yourself these questions:

  • Which committee are you referring the motion to? A standing committee? A special committee dealing solely with this motion?

    Include the committee details in your motion. For example, you may say, "I move to refer the motion to the Recreation Committee," or "I move to refer the motion to a committee of six to be appointed by the president."

  • What do you want the committee to do? You should at least give the committee an instruction on when to report, but you can be as specific as you want. A specific instruction may be, ". . . to consider and recommend the time and place of the picnic and report back to the membership next month," or you may just refer the motion with the instruction, ". . . to report its recommendations at the next meeting."

If the motion to Commit doesn't include enough details, the chairman can't go on to the next item of business. The questions just listed have to be decided before you can move on.

Groups should use the motion to Commit more frequently because it provides the opportunity to take as much time as possible and necessary to gather information or consider alternatives before making a final decision. If you want to have good meetings where members make most of the decisions quickly and easily, use committees to hash out the details and come to the assembly with well-thought-out proposals.

Delegating authority to a committee

If a decision needs to be made before the membership can meet again, you give a committee the authority to act for the membership without further membership approval. However, such a committee with power must not exercise any more power than what was authorized, and the committee's authority cannot exceed the power of the body that appointed it. For example, if the body appointing the committee is the board, then the board may not empower the committee to do anything it (the board) could not do on its own.

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