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Subsidiary Motion

Subsidiary Motion: A List of the 7 Types

What happens when a board member makes a motion and it needs to be modified? What happens when another member brings up valid reasons to postpone acting on the motion? What if the board does not have enough information to make a decisive vote? In any of these situations, the vote can’t take place before something else happens, so the board needs a way to dispose of the main motion until another action takes place. This is the purpose of a subsidiary motion.

Subsidiary motions may be applied to any main motion and the board has to decide on the subsidiary motion first. Subsidiary motions rank in the below order.

Types of Subsidiary Motions

  1. Lay on the table
  2. The previous question
  3. Limit or extend the limit for debate (can’t be applied to subsidiary, incidental or privileged motions, may be amended)
  4. Postpone definitely or to a certain time (may be amended)
  5. Commit or refer (may be amended)
  6. Amend (can’t be applied to subsidiary, incidental or privileged motions, may be amended)
  7. Postpone indefinitely


To Lay on the Table

The object of the motion to lay on the table is to allow the board to temporarily lay a matter aside to attend to business that is more pressing, while allowing the board to retake it up as easily as if it were a new question. To lay a motion on the table is the most senior of subsidiary motions. As such, it may be negatively used or abused by seasoned and savvy board members. Like all other motions, there are rules for its use including:

  • It is undebatable
  • Takes precedence over incidental motions
  • Yields to privileged motions and incidental motions unto itself
  • Can’t have subsidiary motions attached to it


This type of motion may be applied to any question or order of the day once the main motion comes before the board. Another strategy is to apply it to an appeal that doesn’t adhere to a main question. Using it in this manner means that an action on the appeal is not affected by a reversal of the chair. All motions that are attached to a main motion move with it.

To accomplish the objective of getting to a certain pressing matter before another matter, a board member may move to suspend the rules. The member needs a 2/3 vote to accomplish this. A board may also “pass” on a matter by general consent and take it up after another matter.

The high ranking of a motion to lay on the table can be an effective tool for moving one matter in front of another matter. This motion can also be used improperly when a member habitually uses it as a tool to suppress a question by majority vote, which essentially kills it.

The Previous Question

The reason for making a motion for the previous question is to end discussion on a pending question and move to an immediate vote without amendments or debate. See the rules for moving to the previous question:

  • Yields to privileged and incidental motions and the motion to lay on the table
  • It is undebatable
  • It can’t be amended
  • It can’t have any other subsidiary motion applied to it
  • Requires 2/3 vote for adoption
  • May be reconsidered before a full vote is taken

A motion for the previous question may be qualified so that it applies to a series of pending questions, or to a consecutive part of a series that begins with the immediately pending question.

Limit or Extend Limits of Debate

Board members often need to conduct a lot of business in a short amount of time. Unless limits are put into place, a particular matter can drain much of the board meeting time. This is why a motion to limit or extend limits of debate is third only to laying on the table and previous question. This motion manages length of speeches and discussions to a reasonable time.

A vote to limit the time for debate includes limiting time for all incidental motions, subsidiary motions, and motions to reconsider. A vote to limit time for debate is undebatable and requires a 2/3 vote. A motion to limit time for debate may be amended, but it cannot have another subsidiary motion applied to it.

If a board has adopted a motion to close or limit the discussion to a certain timeframe and another member decides to make a motion to postpone the matter or move it to committee, the vote adopting the order must be reconsidered first. Alternatively, the matter could be laid on the table. If the matter isn’t taken from the table until after the expiration of the original time to close or limit discussion, the chair should take an immediate vote, which would not be subject to debate or amendment.

To Postpone to a Certain Time or Definitely

When a member wants to give a matter sufficient time to discuss it, the member may postpone the matter to a certain time. If there still isn’t time to take it up, it becomes unfinished business. The motion to postpone to a definite time or date requires a majority vote, thus it becomes a special order. The motion to amend a motion to postpone requires a 2/3 vote.

Once a matter has been voted to be postponed to a later time or date, it becomes an order of the day for that time or date. The only way to reverse the order is to file a motion to reconsider or suspend the rules for that purpose, which requires passage by 2/3 vote.

A member may not move to postpone an entire class of business, such as reports; each report mush be postponed individually, in turn. Alternatively, the rules could be suspended to 2/3 vote to postpone an entire class.

There is an exception when it comes to postponing business. Matters that are stated in the bylaws to be taken up at a certain time (such as elections), cannot be postponed ahead of time, but they can be postponed when the time of the meeting arrives.

To Commit or Refer

When a board decides that a matter needs more investigation or information than there is time to discuss during a meeting, they may refer it to a committee. The committee chair should be someone who can progress the committee’s work efficiently. The committee should include members on both sides of the question so that the report is comprehensive. The committee has time to work without limiting speeches in duration or number.

Committee Formation

The board chair may appoint a chairman for the committee or the committee may elect its own chairman. The person who makes the referring motion may be the best choice for chair, if that person is informed and knowledgeable about the matter. It’s also acceptable for the referring person not to be on the committee at all.

The committee chair may be the person who makes the motion to refer, but it doesn’t have to be that person. The person who makes the motion to refer may or may not be on the committee. When the referring member is interested and knowledgeable on the matter, it may enhance the work of the committee to include that member. Committee appointments may be made by ballot, open nominations, nominations by the chair, or appointment by the chair.

Granting Action to a Committee

A board may refer a question to a committee and grant power to act on it. Typical situations where this would occur would be a committee to hold a meeting or event. When the committee’s work is completed and the work has been performed, the committee chair provides a report and the committee dissolves. Such committees may be allowed to add members to the committee.

Designating a Committee

In the event that there is discussion regarding which committee the question should be referred to, parliamentary procedure outlines the order that a vote should be taken. The chair takes a vote if it should go to the Committee of the Whole, if voted down, the next vote is for a standing committee. The next in succession is to vote to refer it to a special committee.

Discharging a Committee

When a special committee makes its final report to the board, the committee dissolves without a motion to that effect.

Matters on the same question can’t be considered among the board when the same matter is before a committee. If the board wishes to take a question back, it needs to discharge the committee from the question first. A question to discharge a committee requires a 2/3 vote or a majority of the membership, unless previous notice is given, which only requires a majority vote. If the board wanted to take the question back on the day of the vote to refer or the day after, it may reconsider the vote to commit, which passes with a majority vote.

To Amend

A motion can be amended and an amendment can be amended, but amendment of the second degree cannot be amended. All amendments are debatable unless the pending motion is undebatable. Only one amendment of the first degree is allowed at a time. The same goes for an amendment of the second degree. An amendment to an amendment must be relative to the original pending question.

The previous question and motions to limit or extend the limits of debate may be applied to an amendment, or to only an amendment of an amendment. In such cases they do not affect the main question, unless they are specified as such.

Voting requirements for amendments are as follows:

  • Amendment of pending question-majority vote
  • Question to be amended-2/3 vote
  • Amendment of a constitution, bylaws, rules of order, order of business, previously adopted-2/3 vote (amendment of this amendment requires majority vote)

Forming Amendments

A member forms an amendment by inserting words, striking out words, or by inserting and striking out words. The chair should make the wording clear by restating the amendment prior to the vote, as well as stating the wording after the vote has been taken. While amendments can be helpful in clarifying motions, excessive amending gets confusing. Once amendments have been voted upon, no new amendments should be made unless they materially pose a different question than what has already been voted upon.

Once a vote has been taken to insert words, they cannot be changed unless there is a motion to strike the whole paragraph.

Only consecutive words can be stricken, but the final wording may contain separate consecutive words as the result of amendments. Members may use multiple motions to strike out separated words or move to strike out an entire clause and insert it with another clause.

Motions to strike out and insert are handled by amending the motion to strike out words, and then moving to insert new words. After both amendments have been made, the question is put on a motion to strike out and insert. When several changes need to be made, it’s better to rewrite an entire paragraph an offer it as a substitute.

Motions that Cannot Be Amended

  • To adjourn (except when it is qualified, or when made in assembly with no provision for future meeting)
  • Call for Orders of the Day
  • Question of order, and appeal
  • To object to consideration of a question
  • Call for a division of the assembly
  • To grant leave to withdraw a motion
  • To grant leave to speak after indecorum
  • A request of any kind
  • To take up a question out of its proper order
  • To suspend the rules
  • To lay on the table
  • To take up from the table
  • To reconsider
  • The previous question
  • To postpone indefinitely
  • To amend an amendment
  • To fill a blank
  • A nomination

To Postpone Indefinitely

The purpose of postponing a motion indefinitely, is to neatly dispose of it without a vote. It’s a strategy that may be used when a member believes he will be outvoted. It is only applied to a main motion and can be debated, but not amended. Other than previous question and motions limiting or extending the limits of debate, this motion cannot have a subsidiary motion attached to it. An affirmative vote can be reconsidered, but a negative vote cannot be reconsidered.

Jeremy Barlow

Jeremy is the Director of Digital Marketing at BoardEffect.

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