GUIDE TO SENATE PROCEDURES
Last Updated: August 31, 2005
Meetings. The Senate meets once a month. It is common for standing committees to schedule a regular monthly meeting, but the actual schedule of standing committee meetings will depend on circumstances.
Attendance. Senators are expected to attend all meetings of the Senate and of the standing committee to which they are assigned. If you cannot attend a Senate meeting, you should inform the Senate office by calling 956-7725 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You may wish to have someone attend the Senate meeting in your place. However, the Senate does not permit proxy voting. If you must miss several meetings, you should resign or take leave from the Senate.
Standing Committees. In many respects, the focus of Senate business is the standing committee. Normally, resolutions and other actions come before the Senate only through standing committees. Standing committees act proactively; they do not simply wait for business to be referred to them. If you wish to have some matter addressed by the Senate, it is best to bring it to the attention of a standing committee or to the Senate Executive Committee, who will then usually refer it to a standing committee.
The Senate Executive Committee (SEC) and liaisons. For each standing committee, one member of the Executive Committee serves as liaison. The liaison attends standing committee meetings and works closely with the standing committee chair. The SEC meets each Monday afternoon for many hours and engages in extensive e-mail discussion between meetings.
Timing of meetings and the preparation of the agenda. The SEC drafts an agenda for a Senate meeting on the Monday of the week preceding the Senate meeting (nine days before the Senate meeting). If a standing committee wishes to bring a matter before the Senate, the liaison must relay it to the SEC at this time. For this reason, standing committees often schedule their regular meetings during the week before the SEC prepares the agenda. The SEC does not need to have final wording of resolutions at the time the agenda is drafted on Monday, but the substance must be known in enough detail so that the Senate can be given notice of the issues they will have to deal with.
The SEC must give adequate notice of the agenda. While there is no particular rule about how much notice must be given, the SEC tries to post the final agenda no later than Thursday or Friday of the week preceding the Senate meeting.
SEC acting for the Senate. The SEC is permitted to act for the Senate when it is impractical to assemble a quorum for a full Senate meeting. In practice, this means that the SEC acts for the Senate during the summer and reports on its summer actions at the first regular fall meeting.
Senate Rules of Order
The Senate's Rules of Order are determined by its Charter and Bylaws and by the most recent edition of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR). There are certain aspects of parliamentary procedure that are especially important to the Senate.
- Informality of debate. Senate debate tends not to be as rigidly formal as the strictest parliamentary traditions would require. (In parliamentary terms, the Senate usually implicitly uses "informal consideration" or "goes into a (quasi) committee of the whole.") For example, when a resolution is introduced by a committee, the Senate Chair will often permit the standing committee chair who introduced the motion to lead a discussion; the Senate Chair will intervene when formal action is needed. And, the Senate Chair will sometimes provide background information or attempt to clarify the issues, though never advocate a position. If some Senator objects to this level of informality, the Senate must observe formal procedures.
- Identifying yourself. Senators must identify themselves as senators and give their name before they speak: "Jim Smith, Senator from LLL". The Senate Secretary needs to know the names for the minutes; other senators need to learn names; and for procedural reasons, the chair needs to know whether someone is a senator. It is helpful if the speaker stands.
- Participation of non-senators. Senate meetings are open, and non-senators may participate in debate at the discretion of the chair, as time permits. The Chair has a responsibility to ensure that the meeting is orderly and that all senators who wish to speak have an opportunity to do so. A senator may ask the Chair to limit the participation of non-senators.
- Quorum. A majority (more than 50%) of the members must be present in order for the Senate or a standing committee to take official action. This is the "quorum." The Chair determines whether a Senate meeting can begin by counting how many Senators have signed in. It is assumed that a quorum continues to be present unless someone questions this ("Point of order; Is there a quorum present?") or the Chair independently notices the absence of a quorum.
- Introducing resolutions. Matters normally come before the Senate from committees. A motion coming from a committee is usually made by the committee chair ("On behalf of the committee, I move..."). A motion from a committee does not require a second. Individual senators may propose resolutions during the "new business" part of the meeting. A motion made by an individual requires a second and must wait until the next Senate meeting to be considered and voted on.
- Ending debate. When debate seems to have gone on long enough, a senator may move to end the debate. "I move that debate be stopped" or "I move the previous question." The chair will ask if there is any objection to ending debate. If there is none, then there is no need to vote on whether to stop debate. ("The previous question passes by unanimous consent.") If anyone wishes to continue debate, then a two-thirds majority vote is required to stop debate.
- Voting. Voting in the Senate is normally done by a show of hands. Occasionally, the chair may ask for a standing vote. In very simple cases, the Chair may ask for a voice vote. If you think the chair has erred in announcing the results of a voice vote, you may demand a show of hands or a standing vote.
- Majorities and abstentions. Motions pass by a majority (more than 50%, or in some cases two-thirds) of those voting yes or no. The chair does not vote except to break a tie. Motions do not require a majority of all those Senators who are present: only of those voting yes or no. A count of abstentions is not required by parliamentary procedure and does not affect the outcome in any way. In the Manoa Faculty Senate it is traditional to invite a count of abstentions so that those senators who wish to do so may show that they abstain. However, Senators who do not wish to vote on a matter do not have to be counted as abstaining.
- Agenda and time limits. The agenda for the Senate lists the items to be taken up and may also suggest the amount of time each item is expected to take. The order may be changed (sometimes the Chair will ask for consent for this). The suggested times are not official limits unless the Senate votes to adopt them. The way to fix the time limits is this: At the beginning of the meeting, a Senator will move to "adopt the agenda, along with the times limits." If this motion passes, then the Senate must adhere to the time limits as well as the order of the items. When the time limit is up, debate stops and a vote is immediately taken, or a motion could be made to postpone the matter (to continue discussion at the next meeting, for example), or to refer it to a committee. To extend the time limit requires a two-thirds vote.
- Dropping a matter without a vote: no tabling. If the Senate wishes to stop discussing a matter, without its then coming to a vote, a motion to "postpone indefinitely" can be made, or the matter can be referred to a committee. The proposer of a motion can also ask for permission to withdraw it (the Senate would have to agree). Another Senator can suggest that the proposer ask to withdraw a motion. Following RONR, the Senate does not permit the use of the undebatable motion to "table" as a device for effectively dropping a proposal without a vote on the substance.
- Friendly amendments. It is common during discussion for someone to propose a change to a resolution aimed at improving the wording without affecting the content. The Chair will permit such a change without a formal vote if no one objects. ("The amendment is adopted by unanimous consent.") Some deliberative bodies (but not our Senate) have a special rule whereby "friendly" amendments to a motion can be made without a vote as long as those who made and seconded the main motion agree to the amendment. This is not permitted under our Rules.
- Referring to a committee. A matter may be referred to a standing committee or to an ad hoc committee. It is possible (though not required) to set a date by which the committee must report to the Senate. The committee may be given a more specific charge, but this is not required. If it is an ad hoc committee, the Senate must either name the committee or say how it is to be set up (usually by the SEC or the Committee on Faculty Service, under certain guidelines). The Senate may also specify a term-length for an ad hoc committee.