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General Henry Robers and Idaho Potatoheads

One of the best discussions I have ever heard was at the Virginia Festival of Books. The speakers were Registered Parliamentarians, an organization of specialists in parliamentary rules. They discussed the ways British parliamentary rules were adopted in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other parliamentary countries, including India. Each country then adapted them to its own peculiar circumstances, but when we speak of "democracy", there are certain common rules in English-speaking countries. The rules in other countries such as France and Germany most vary, but that subject was not discussed. Presumably the present German and Japanese rules reflect the American model which inspired them.

In the United States Jefferson adapted British parliamentary rules to US conditions, but it was not explained why "to table" a motion has opposite meanings in England and the US. Rules were needed for organizations other than parliaments, and that was taken up by Luther S. Cushing, whose Modern Rules of Order is still available. However, it was General Henry Roberts, an Army engineer, who wrote Rules of Order, the standard work, which, with modifications, prevails in the US Congress and in state legislatures. The account of how an army engineer got into this subject is fascinating.

Some subjects were not discussed, among them the time rule by which the chairman can say "The gentlelady has the floor for one and three quarter minutes". More important, there was no mention of "non-binding resolutions" which was used in our discussion of the motion supporting Basque independence in the Idaho legislature (although I did not see "non-binding" in the reports I read). A detailed article on parliamentary procedure discusses "motions", of which there are several categories, with various sub-divisions: Main Motions, Secondary Motions, Subsidiary Motions, Incidental Motions, and Recall Motions. It is very complicated, but no where can I find the expression "non-binding resolutions", not even the word "resolution", which means the opinion of a body. I suppose that "Be it resolved that..." is a motion.

"Non-binding resolutions" are used and abused in the US Congress, but their use in state legislatures must vary. Steve Torok says them are sometimes used in the UN. Let us stick to the US Congress. Can anyone tell me where the rules governing "non- binding resolutions" can be found?

Ronald Hilton - 4/6/02