Robert’s Rules for Taking from the Table

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP

You may already be familiar with Robert’s Rules and the motion to Lay on the Table, the highest-ranking subsidiary motion. This motion is used to temporarily set aside a pending main motion, permitting something else to be addressed or done.

In most cases, the “something else” carries a sense of urgency, such as the need to allow your guest speaker to address your group at a particular time without compromising his schedule. However, whatever the reason for placing something on the table, after the more urgent matter has been attended to, it’s in order to take the motion from the table and resume consideration of it at the point where you left off. But taking the motion from the table requires a motion and a second; otherwise, the chair may properly advance to the next item of business.

If no motion to Take from the Table is made, or if the chair doesn’t assume the motion and obtain unanimous consent to resume where you left off, you can still move to take from the table any item that lies on the table. The only requirement is that you make the motion by the end of the next regular business session of your group (unless you meet less frequently than quarterly, in which case you must make the motion before that session adjourns).

Using the motion to Take from the Table

Suppose you’re in a meeting of your professional association, which is considering a resolution to take a position in support of increasing statutory continuing education requirements being considered by your state legislature. Your group’s debate has been heated and has gone on longer than you anticipated, and your guest speaker is running on a tight schedule. You aren’t finished with the debate on the motion, but you need to let your speaker make her presentation. So you adopt the motion to Lay on the Table the question on the resolution.

Making the motion

The speaker concludes her presentation, and the president announces the next item of business on the agenda. If you’re ready to get back to work on that continuing education resolution, rise and say, “Mr. Chairman, I rise to move to take from the table the resolution on continuing professional education.”

It is in order, and remains in order, to move to Take from the Table as long as you haven’t yet moved on to a new class of business (such as going from “Reports of Officers, Boards, and Standing Committees” to “Reports of Special Committees”). But it is in order to move to Take from the Table during “Unfinished Business,” “General Orders,” or “New Business.”)

But if you wait too long and have moved on from the class of business that gave rise to the motion, and you’re not engaged in one of the three classes of business indicated above, you can take the resolution from the table only at the appropriate time in the next business meeting, or by moving to Suspend the Rules and Take from the Table to take something out of its proper order.

Obtaining recognition

Because this motion to Take from the Table enables the assembly to resume consideration of an undecided question, and because time limits on its use are in place, whoever rises to offer the motion is entitled to preference in recognition by the chair.

You can claim preference for recognition to make the motion to Take from the Table. You can seek recognition at any time until the chair states the question on another item of business.

The presiding officer needs to give you preference in recognition for the purpose of making this motion because it’s generally desirable to finish dealing with a motion that hasn’t been disposed of before going on to something else. But after consideration of another motion has begun (as stated by the chair), you must wait for the next lull in the proceedings before you can move to Take from the Table.

Even though a motion that’s laid on the table dies if it’s not taken from the table by the close of the next regular business meeting, it can be brought up again by just renewing the motion. Therefore, if you can’t get back to a motion that lies on the table via the motion to take from the table, it’s not usually a big deal except when time is critical.

Understanding when you can’t take from the table

It’s generally in order to move to take a motion from the table just about any time motions in the same class are in order, or when Unfinished Business, General Orders, or New Business is in order. But if a series of motions needs to be handled, the motion to Take from the Table can’t be made. This situation may occur in these cases:

  • When you’ve voted to suspend the rules to allow the introduction of another main motion
  • When a motion has just been laid on the table expressly to allow consideration of another motion
  • When your group has rescinded a previous motion to allow a conflicting motion to be made and considered
  • When a main motion has been voted down because a member said that if it was voted down, he’d offer a particular motion to handle an issue in a better or more acceptable way

6 key characteristics of the motion to Take from the Table

A motion to Take from the Table

  • Can’t interrupt a speaker who has the floor
  • Must be seconded
  • Isn’t debatable
  • Can’t be amended
  • Requires a majority vote
  • Can’t be reconsidered