Can a Decision to Limit Debate Be Changed?

I’ve talked a good bit on this blog about how and when to limit debate. But what are your options if a group has decided to limit debate but then doesn’t have enough time to discuss a certain topic? Is it just game over, move on? Good news…. The answer is no, and here’s what to do instead.

Make the motion to extend debate.

That’s right—believe it or not there is actually a motion called “extend debate.” And a person who wants to make that motion says, “I move to extend debate for [a specified number of speakers or a specified amount of time].”

The motion to extend debate is specific.

Like the motion to limit debate, the motion to extend debate has to include the specific parameters that will apply. In other words, you can’t just say, “I move to extend debate” because without limits, you’ve just opened your group up again to the problems that come along with unlimited discussion. (And while that may sound very appealing in the name of tolerance and open-mindedness, I’m telling you—it’s not wise.)

So as you move to extend debate, you also have to say how long you want to extend it.

  • You can extend it for a certain amount of time—e.g., ten more minutes on this motion, or fifteen minutes total on a specified group of motions.
  • You can also extend it for a certain number of speakers—e.g., three more per side (in favor of / opposed), three more total, etc.

The motion to extend debate is not debatable.

Again, like the motion to limit debate, we’re not going to debate the pros and cons on this. We’re either going to do it, or we’re not.

(And for my advanced readers, know that even though the motion isn’t debatable, it is amendable as to how long to extend the limits. So, if the motion-maker proposes an extension of ten minutes, and you’re thinking, how about twenty—you can make the motion to amend. Just no debate.)

The motion to extend debate needs a two-thirds vote to pass.

To adopt the motion to extend debate, at least two-thirds of the people voting need to be in favor of the idea. (Wondering how to calculate a two-thirds vote? You can find a quick guide to tallying votes here.)

Once the extension of debate expires, the regular limits on debate apply.

When the time of the extension is over, the limits on debate that were initially adopted are back in play—unless, of course, you want to move to extend debate again, which is allowed.

Moral of the story: You’re not boxed in.

So, extending debate is the perfect easy-fix when your whole group is feeling hemmed in by debate time limits. Just make a motion to extend your discussion—with parameters for when debate will wrap up—and carry on.