Monthly Training Summary

MARCH 2024: "A QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE" (by George M. Chavis)

Of the state legislative chambers (e.g., “legislatures” or “general assemblies”) the parliamentary procedure that governs them vary between: 

- “Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure”

- “Jefferson’s Manual

- “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised” (RONR)

• The US Senate follows the "Standing Rules of the United States Senate," while the US House of Representatives, follows "Jefferson's Manual.“

Whether you’re in the U.S. House of Representatives, the State of Virginia, the board of directors of ACME Corporation, or a small local non-profit charity, one word is common among all of them: PRIVILEGE.

The most common phrases and terms used by these organizations are:





Question: Do these phrases mean the same thing? NO!!!

Privileged Motions (RONR 6:12) are motions that do not relate to the pending question/discussion but have to do with matters of such urgency or importance that are, often without debate, are allowed to interrupt the consideration of anything pending.

     1. CALL FOR THE ORDERS OF THE DAY: Requires that the adopted agenda or order of business be followed. (“Mr. President, I call for the orders of the day.” or “Madam President, l demand the regular order.”)

     2. RAISE A QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE: Permits a request or main motion relating to the rights and privileges of the assembly or any one of its members to be brought up for immediate consideration because of its urgency. (“Madam President, I rise to a question of privilege affecting the assembly.”)

     3. RECESS: Permits a short intermission in a meeting for a specific length of time. (“Mr. President, I move that we recess for 10 minutes.”) Or, until a specific time (“2:00”), or until called to order by the Chair.

     4. ADJOURN: Terminates the meeting. (“Mr. President, I move that we adjourn.”)

     5. FIX THE TIME TO WHICH TO ADJOURN: While business is pending but before adjourning, the assembly may fix a time/date (or a place) to adjourn.

The motions “Raise A Question of Privilege” (RONR 19:1-2) and “Question of Privilege” are two different things:

     1. “Raise a Question of Privilege”: The process for determining whether a question related to the rights and privileges of the body should be admitted for consideration while business is currently pending before the body.

• Member rises and address the chair ("I rise to a question of privilege")
• Chair asks the member to state the question of privilege
• Chair rules on whether it is, or is not, a question of privilege
• If so, determines the urgency to interrupt pending business 

2. “Question of Privilege”: This is the question itself being raised by the member.

• Handled as a request or a main motion
• Is debatable (and amendable) as to whether it may interrupt pending business
• Should never be confused with Privileged Motions/Questions (RONR 19:4)

A “Question of Privilege” addresses:

1. “Privileges of the Assembly” (RONR 19:7)

     a. It is of sufficient urgency to be recognized by the Chair

     b. It addresses:

        - The organization’s existence (e.g., the authority to conduct business, meeting place)

        - The comfort of members (e.g., room temperature, lighting, sound, cramped space)

        - The conduct of officers, members, or visitors

        - Discipline of members

        - Accuracy of reports or information

        - A motion to go into executive session

2. “Personal Privilege” (RONR 19:7)

     a. Rarely justifies interruption of business, but when it does:

        - A request to be excused for illness or emergency

        - An immediate need to address misconduct by another member

        - Inaccurate information in the record (e.g., attendance, dues, standing)

A “Question of Privilege” example:

MEMBER: “Madam President, I rise to a question of privilege affecting the entire assembly.”

CHAIRMAN: “The member will state his question.”

MEMBER: “Madam President, I don't think we're going to be able to hear the discussion unless the windows and doors are closed.

CHAIRMAN: “Will one of the members please close the windows and doors so the members can hear.

Should there be a conflict between a question of privilege (assembly) and a question of personal privilege, the former has precedence over latter.

     - In small organizations, assemblies, and clubs, under the “Question of Privilege” questions related to “personal privilege” are often worded to the Chairman (often directly to the assembly) as “I rise for a point of personal privilege.”

     - It is not uncommon then for the member to announce the birth of a child, or seeks prayers for an upcoming operation, or that they just received a promotion at their job. Such privileges are common and allowable in the “special” parliamentary rules adopted by large corporations, state legislatures, and particularly in the U.S. Congress, where the speaker is allowed to address the members of his or her chamber on a matter not directly related to the floor debate/discussion. If its granted, the member may address the chamber on any topic for a designated time (usually about ten minutes).

     - Unless the assembly’s Bylaws permit it, “[a point] of personal privilege” is out of order. This term and the usage described above it not addressed by RONR.

     - A “point of personal privilege” and a “question of privilege” are two different things.

Contact Catherine Wittman Unit

Send Us a Message

Contact us if you have any questions about what we do. We will be glad to talk to you.