NAP Feature Article


Taken from the "National Parliamentarian" (Vol. 83, No. 4), by National Association of Parliamentarians (Mr. Kirk Overbey, PRP)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to process a tertiary or third-degree amendment? Since most of us find secondary amendments to be daunting, the parliamentary rule against tertiary amendments is intellectually satisfying, if not emotionally comforting. I once dared to allow a tertiary amendment when my client—a board of directors—struggled with a resolution for over an hour. While a secondary amendment was pending, a director exclaimed, “I’ve got it!” and blurted out a solution to the snag. Directors smiled and nodded their heads. Rather than drag this unskilled board through the proper procedure of declaring a tertiary amendment out of order, encouraging the defeat of the secondary amendment, and properly introducing the solution as a secondary amendment (RONR 12th ed. 12:12), I advised the president to approve the tertiary amendment by unanimous consent (RONR 12th ed. 25:16). All agreed, the resolution was swiftly adopted, and the board took up the next item of business.

Not all complex situations are easily handled by a unanimous consent suspension of the rules, and the prohibition against tertiary amendments is a good one. No doubt, the rule was developed through experience. Luther Cushing said that tertiary amendments “...would be such a piling of questions, one upon another, as would lead to great embarrassment…the line must be drawn somewhere…” (Cushing’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice, section 96). Cushing was Clerk for the Massachusetts House in the 1830s and just might have encountered such embarrassment. I can visualize the speaker rapping the gavel and exclaiming “That’s it! No more tertiary amendments.” Indeed, the line must be drawn somewhere.

While primary and secondary amendments are ensconced in the parliamentary lexicon, few would welcome the quaternary or quinary degree. But are such amendments even logically possible? Overwhelmed with curiosity, I concocted such a scenario. A series of higher degree amendments can be generated using substitutes. The NAP Bylaws are partitioned to the fifth level: I, 1, A, 1, and a). Here’s an example of amending to the seventh degree, using a hypothetical revision of the NAP bylaws:

   - Main Motion: Adopt the proposed revision to the NAP Bylaws.

   - Primary: Amend Article IX, Committees, by substituting [etc.]

   - Secondary: Amend Section 1, Standing Committees, by substituting [etc.]

   - Tertiary: Amend paragraph A, Composition, Accountability…by substituting [etc.]

   - Quaternary: Amend subparagraph 1 by substituting [etc.]

   - Quinary: Amend part a) by substituting, “The membership extension and retention committee shall consist of the district directors.”

   - Senary: Amend by adding “and the state association presidents or the state association president’s designee."

   - Septenary: Amend by striking out “or the state association president’s designee.”

Now imagine the possibilities along the way for parallel amendments. While the secondary amendment is pending, several independent tertiary amendments could be considered sequentially. While a tertiary amendment is pending, several quaternary amendments, and so forth. Fortunately, the line was drawn long ago—a blessing for parliamentarians and a safeguard for everyone else.

(Mr. Kirk Overbey, is a former President of the Texas State Association of Parliamentarians.)

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