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Priviledged Motions

Privileged Motions: A Few Types and Examples

Imagine a handbook that covers every possible board situation that could come up at any profit or nonprofit organization. The book would be volumes upon volumes. It’s for this reason that Robert’s Rules allows some room for organizations to be flexible, under certain circumstances, and with specific rules. Main motions are the primary mechanism that boards use to act and move on business items. Occasionally, something needs to be brought up at a board meeting that can’t wait. That’s the time that certain motions, called privileged motions, rule over every other type of motion. As with every other type of motion, privileged motions have rules of their own.

Privileged motions are not debatable and with few exceptions, cannot have a subsidiary motion attached to them. After the members have taken up the orders of the day or a question of privilege, the members may debate or amend the privileged motion, or attach a subsidiary motion to it. Explanations for privileged motions follow:

Fix the Time to Adjourn

This motion is used as a privileged motion when a meeting needs to be continued later the same day or until the next day. Fixing the time to adjourn can be a main motion or a privileged motion, depending upon if another question is pending and if there is another meeting already set. A motion to fix the time to adjourn is considered a privileged motion when it is made when there is another question pending and the board has not set a date for another meeting on the same day or the next day. If a member moves to fix the time to adjourn when no question is pending and the board has set a date for another meeting the same day or the next day, it is considered a main motion. In the latter example, the motion may be debated and amended and it can have a subsidiary motion attached to it.

Example: A member makes a motion that the board adjourns at 5 p.m. on that day. If no other motion is pending, and there is another meeting the following day, the chair would ask for objections to the time. Hearing none, the chair sets the time for the day’s adjournment at 5 p.m.     


When a board member wants to adjourn a meeting immediately and without debate, it is a privileged motion. This type of motion only yields to a motion to fix the time to adjourn.

Example: A board of directors meets quarterly. All items on the agenda have been discussed and it’s obvious that there isn’t any more discussion. The chair may announce, “Seeing as there is no further business, this meeting is adjourned.”  Alternatively, if all business items have not been discussed, the board may vote to adjourn the meeting.

In this type of situation, it’s a privileged motion that can’t be debated, amended or have a subsidiary motion applied to it. The chair would take up the motion immediately without reconsideration. The moving member may withdraw the motion from the floor.

Adjournment as a Main Motion

While a motion to adjourn is always a privileged motion, there is an exception which makes the motion to adjourn a main motion. There are two situations for moving to adjourn where the motion is a main motion:

  1. When the meeting is the last assembly or meeting at a convention and there is no provision for a future meeting, the motion to adjourn dissolves the assembly permanently.
  2. When the meeting is the last meeting, but the bylaws allow for another future meeting, the motion to adjourn closes the session. This allows the group to reconvene at a later date as an existing, recognized body.

In both of those situations, the motion to adjourn is a main motion that is debatable, amendable, and subject to subsidiary motions. If the motion has been interrupted by intervening business, a member may renew it.

So, what happens if the meeting adjourns and business is unfinished? The bylaws may state how this issue should be handled. If they don’t and the adjournment doesn’t close the session, the unfinished business is the first order of the next regular meeting. If the body holds regular sessions at least quarterly and has an elected body, the unfinished business can resume at the next meeting. If the body does not have at least quarterly meetings, and the term of elected members is expiring, unfinished business dies, but can be reintroduced as new business at the next regular meeting.

Take a Recess

Certain situations call for a break, or taking a recess, during a board meeting, such as time out for meals or counting ballots. Taking a recess also commonly occurs during conventions that are held over more than one day where there is a recess built into the programming. Fixing the time to adjourn and moving to adjourn take precedence over taking a recess. Rules that pertain to taking a recess include:

  • May have a subsidiary motion attached
  • Takes effect immediately
  • May be amended as to length of recess
  • Can be postponed by 2/3 vote or adjournment
  • Is privileged if made when other business is before the assembly
  • Becomes a main motion if made when no other business is before the assembly

Example: A motion was made to recess at noon for lunch for an hour. At the appropriate time, the chair announces that the assembly is in recess until 1 p.m. Business resumes after the recess as if no break had been taken.

Raise a Question of Privilege

Raising a question of privilege has to do with the rights and privileges of the assembly or those of an individual member. The three preceding questions take precedence over raising the question of privilege.

Raising a question of privilege is used for situations where the comfort of the assembly needs to be addressed right away, such as heating, lighting, ventilation, or noise. Questions of privilege may also be brought to address concerns about the conduct of its officers or employees, to consider the presence of media at the meeting, or to question the accuracy of published reports. Rules that pertain to raising questions of privilege include:

  • May interrupt a member’s speech only when the matter is urgent
  • May not interrupt a vote
  • Privilege of assembly takes precedence over privilege of member
  • If it relates to a member, must relate to the member’s position on the board or be a matter that would incapacitate his membership on the board
  • The chair rules on whether the question of privilege is to be recognized, members may appeal
  • Chair resumes business where interruption left off before the question of privilege

Example: A member of the media enters the media while a board member is putting a question on the table. The journalist requests permission to videotape the meeting. A board member interrupts the member offering the question and requests a question of privilege. The member then asks if the journalist may videotape the meeting. The chair asks the members if there are any objections. If there are none, he states that the videotaping may ensue.  

Call for the Orders of the Day

A call for the orders of the day is a means for a member to demand that the assembly conform to the scheduled order of business. Calling for orders of the day is appropriate when the order of business is being varied, unless other privileged motions are pending. A chair who regularly announces business to be conducted in the proper order will prevent problems with other members calling for orders of the day during the meeting. Rules for calling for orders of the day include:

  • Does not require a second
  • Cannot be debated, amended or have a subsidiary motion attached
  • Can interrupt a speech
  • Yields to motion for adjournment, recess, and questions of privilege
  • Can be made when no question is pending as long as chair has not stated the question
  • Can be reconsidered before taking up the general orders
  • Requires 2/3 vote to refuse to take up orders for the day
  • Requires 2/3 vote to extend time for pending question for a specific number of minutes

Example: The orders of the day state that a fundraising event is to be discussed at 1 p.m., but the assembly has not finished discussing amending a bylaw. A member may move to extend time for the question on amending the bylaw for an additional 10 minutes. A 2/3 vote grants the extra 10 minutes.

Orders of the Day

Orders of the day are categorized by general orders or special orders with special orders taking precedence over general orders. All orders of the day have been assigned a particular day or hour and cannot be considered before that time, unless they are overridden by a 2/3 vote.

General Orders

General orders specify the order (not the time) that business items, along with postponed items are addressed. Rules that govern general orders include:

  • Don’t suspend any rule
  • Can’t interrupt business
  • Has precedence over other issues at the hour it’s ordered where no question is pending, except for special orders and reconsideration
  • Can be reconsidered before the appointed time by 2/3 vote

Special Orders

Special orders require a 2/3 vote, because they suspend all rules that interfere with their consideration except motions to adjourn, recess, or to questions of privilege or other special orders that were made before it. Rules for special orders include:

  • In the orders of the day, special orders take precedence over general orders
  • A pending question can be made into a special order for a future time by postponing it and making it into a special order
  • If the question is not pending, it is a main motion (that is debatable, amendable, subsidiary motions may be attached)
  • Can adopt a program for a specified hour to take up each topic
  • Are held in the order of being adopted, even when they are made at different times.

Example: A special order is set for 3 p.m. at one meeting. At a different meeting, another special order is set for 9 a.m. the same day as the one that is set for 3 p.m. The order that was set first (3 p.m.) takes precedence over the one that was made after it (9 a.m.), even though it was set for later in the day.

Jeremy Barlow

Jeremy is the Director of Digital Marketing at BoardEffect.

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