How to Break a Rule in a Meeting

This is a quick guide on how to break a meeting rule if it is not serving your interests.

The Skinny

  • What motion should you use to break a rule in a meeting?
    Use the motion called Suspend the Rules.                                           
  • What should you say when making this motion?
    Say this: “I move to suspend the rules and allow presentation of the treasurer’s report even though we are in the middle of considering whether to give a raise to the staff this year. I think hearing a report on the financials would help us make that decision.”
  • When can you make this motion?
    You can make this motion when another motion is on the floor if you want to break a rule related to that motion.

If the rule you would like to suspend is not related to the motion on the floor, you can make this motion only when no other motion is on the floor.

  • Does someone have to say, “Second” after this motion is proposed?
  • Can people debate the pros and cons of this motion?

But the person who makes the motion is allowed to give a few words of explanation when she makes the motion. Hint: “A few” does not mean “a TED talk on why this is a good idea.”

  • Can this motion be amended?
  • How many votes does this motion need to pass?
    At least two-thirds of the votes cast must be in favor of breaking the rule if it relates to parliamentary procedure.

If the rule you would like to suspend relates to business but not to parliamentary procedure—e.g., recording a meeting or wearing a required name badge—it can be suspended by a majority vote.

An Example

  • A main motion is on the floor. A member thinks that everyone would benefit from hearing a report first or would be helped by the discussion of a different motion before they continue discussing or voting on the motion that is on the floor.
  • That member seeks recognition by the Chair, and once recognized, says, “I move to suspend the rules and take up the [report or other motion].”
  • Another member says, “Second.”
  • The Chair takes a vote on whether to suspend the rules.
  • If at least two-thirds agree, the rule—that a main motion must be formally set aside or voted on before another idea or motion can be considered—is suspended. If at least two-thirds do not agree, the group continues considering the main motion that is on the floor.

What the Pros Know

  • The following rules cannot be suspended:
    • Laws
    • Corporate charters
    • Bylaws
      Exceptions: Rules in bylaws can be suspended if (1) the bylaws say that they can or (2) the rule is really a procedural rule—e.g., a rule about the transaction of business.
    • Rules that relate to fundamental principles of parliamentary law—e.g., that only members can vote
    • Rules that protect absentees—e.g., that a quorum is required to conduct business
    • Rules that protect the basic rights of a member—e.g., the right to attend, make motions, speak, and vote
      Note: A member’s rights can only be removed by following proper disciplinary procedures.
    • Rules that apply outside of a meeting—e.g., that each board member make a $1,000 contribution to the organization each year
  • If a motion to suspend a rule fails, it cannot be proposed again for the same purpose at the same meeting unless everyone (not just a majority) agrees to allow it.

Where to Learn More