Robert’s Rules for Assigning the Floor
Knowing that members control decisions but the chair controls the floor is at the heart of successful presiding with Robert’s Rules. Early in a discussion, the situation is pretty clear. Members rise and address the chair, and you, as the chair, basically want to take them in the order they seek recognition — first come, first served. But when lots of people clamor for your attention, things become a little more complicated. You often need to know why a member seeks recognition and what the parliamentary situation is.
When no question is pending
This is the situation after you’ve finished up with a particular item of business but before you’ve moved on to the next order of business or stated a new motion.
In a special meeting, a member planning to offer a motion for which the meeting was called has preference in recognition over others who may offer competing motions.
When getting a motion before the group requires a series of motions, such as needing to lay a motion on the table to take up a more urgent motion, the member who made the intervening motion (in this case, the motion to lay on the table) is entitled to recognition in order to make the motion she’s trying to get on the floor.
If a motion is voted down because a member offers to make a certain motion if the assembly defeats a pending motion, that member is entitled to preference in recognition for the purpose of making the new motion.
Motions necessary to determine composition of a committee that’s established in another motion preempt any other motions until the necessary details of the committee have been decided. Members seeking the floor to make motions to decide committee details have preference in recognition.
Even when a member is entitled to recognition to make a main motion, if another member seeks recognition to make a motion to reconsider and enter onto the minutes, to make a motion to reconsider a vote, to call up a motion to reconsider, to give previous notice, or to make the motion to take from the table, then that member must be recognized first.
When a debatable motion is immediately pending
This is the situation most of the time. As the presiding officer, you may quite often find yourself asking, “For what purpose does the member rise?” If it’s not to give notice or the member who made the immediately preceding motion, you move on to the next member seeking recognition. Alternate recognition between proponents and opponents of the pending motion, and let everyone who wishes to have an opportunity to speak before recognizing someone for a second time.
If the pending motion is one that was adopted earlier and is now being reconsidered for the purpose of being amended, then the member who made the motion to reconsider — for the specific purpose of amending the motion now being reconsidered — is entitled to preference in recognition to move his amendment.
When an undebatable question is immediately pending
If a motion is undebatable, well, it’s not in order to say much of anything. Only the following two situations give anybody any reason to claim the floor:
A member rising to give notice is entitled to recognition.
A member rising to make a motion that takes precedence over the pending motion is entitled to recognition.