Procedure for Debate
- Time is of the essence, and the ultimate goal of a chamber is to share time equally among legislators for speaking. The more time spent on motions, amending, etc.; the less time is available for speeches. The National Forensic League defines a session of floor debate as three hours for a chamber of 18 students (10 minutes to allow for two speeches per student).
- Setting the agenda at the beginning of the session is important. Invest thoughtful discussion in caucusing to set the agenda to avoid laying items on the table during sessions, which often annoys judges/scorers and the parliamentarian. Also, when calling the previous question fails to achieve a 2/3 vote, do not move to “Lay on the Table” by a simple majority. Remember, moving the previous question protects the voice of the minority prior to when the vote will rest on the majority.
- Legislators stand if they wish to be recognized to move, to speak, or to vote on the main motion (legislation). The presiding officer will recognize speakers first who have not spoken, next, based on precedence, and finally, based on recency. Before precedence has been established, the presiding officer should recognize speakers randomly and fairly. During a session, precedence and recency should not reset to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to speak and receive evaluation from scorers. When a new session begins with a new presiding officer and scorer(s), both precedence and recency should reset.
- Only the presiding officer recognizes legislators who wish to question the speaker. Neither questioners nor speakers must ask or grant permission to yield; this is implied by the set questioning period. Legislators may only ask one question at a time; two-part questions are not allowed. Some tournaments may use a direct questioning format; this is only allowed if stated explicitly in a tournament’s rules. Scorers should take the quality of a speaker’s answers into account when evaluating.
- Do not yield remaining speaking time to another legislator. The elected presiding officer may not give a speech while presiding, unless a tournament’s rules specifically allows for it. National Forensic League tournaments do not.
- Be respectful of others in the room. If the presiding officer makes a minor mistake, give him/her the benefit of the doubt unless someone has been wronged. The PO is elected by the chamber to run the meeting and should be allowed to fulfill this duty efficiently and effectively. Move the previous question only if debate gets one-sided; do not use it to prevent someone from speaking.
- Votes on motions other than the main motion are usually taken by voice vote, with a “Division” called by a member when the vote is not clear and that member believes someone’s right to speak is being abridged. Voting results for a simple majority decision (except on the main motion, i.e., legislation) are based upon the number voting (ayes plus noes); not the number seated in the chamber at the beginning of the session. When debate has exhausted and no one wishes to speak (or the chamber moves to end debate), the chamber will vote on the legislation. This vote is based on the number seated in the chamber, since Congress members’ voting records are ostensibly tracked by their constituents.
- Amendments must be presented to the presiding officer in writing (an official form is available in this manual’s appendix), with specific references to lines and clauses that change. This must be done in advance of moving to amend.
- The parliamentarian will recommend whether the amendment is “germane” – that is, it upholds the original intent of the legislation – otherwise, it is considered “dilatory.” The title of the legislation may be changed.
- Between floor speeches, a legislator may move to amend, and the presiding officer will read the proposed amendment aloud and call for a second by one-third of those members present, unless he/she rules it dilatory.
- Should students wish to speak on the proposed amendment, the presiding officer will recognize them as per the standing precedence in the chamber, and the speech will be counted toward their total, accordingly.
- Simply proposing an amendment does not guarantee an “author/sponsor” speech, and any speeches on amendments are followed by the normal one minute of questioning.
- Amendments are considered neutral and do not constitute an affirmative or negative speech on the original legislation.
- If there are no speakers or the previous question is moved, the chamber may vote on a proposed amendment without debating it.
- 1 strong tap = call meeting to order; also used to end questioning time (presiding officer also may gesture a cue to questioners to be seated as the speaker finishes answering the final question)
- Speech time signals: 1 tap = 1 minute remaining • 2 taps = 30 seconds remaining • 3 taps = time has lapsed
- Multiple taps (until speaker stops talking) = grace period has ended (speech should not exceed 3 minutes, 10 seconds)
The following list includes handy phrases (right) for various situations (left):
- Make a motion... “I move that (or to)…”
- Leave the room (toilet, etc.)...
Legislator stands: “I rise to a point a personal privilege.”
Chair says: “State that privilege”
Legislator says: “To leave the room.”
- Make an amendment (see “Amendments” above)... “Move to amend.”
- Close debate on the current issue... “I move the previous question.”
- Ask about an error...
Legislator stands: “Motion… I rise to a point of parliamentary inquiry (or order).”
Chair says “State that point.” Legislator describes the issue. The chair may confer with the parliamentarian.
- Second a motion... “Second!”
- Table... “I move to lay the question on the table.”
- Take from the table... “I move to take from the table…”
Tracking Speaking Order
Keeping record of who has spoken ensures fairness in speaker recognition, and can be done with a simple table as demonstrated below. When students track recency, documenting the order of speeches also helps with this process. Speaker side is also noted – S (sponsor), N (negative), A (affirmative) – the examples below show where more than one speech on the same side was given.
- In the example to the left, speakers’ names are snaked from top to bottom, left to right, and crossed out when a speaker is subsequently recognized (the speech numbers are noted in parentheses). This makes it easier to determine who has spoken least and least recently.
- In the example to the right, an alphabetized list is kept. In both examples, the presiding officer serves for two hours, which counts as two speeches.
Conduct, Ethics and Evidence
(from National Forensic League rules)
- A congressperson’s conduct shall be above reproach and he/she should never be guilty of intentional harassment. Impeaching and censuring other participants is not allowed.
- Participation in this event demands the seriousness of purpose and maturity possessed by real world policymakers. All adult officials, including scorers, will hold each participant to this standard.
- Congresspersons should have a cooperative nature and if there is a problem, then the student should take any concerns to an adult official.
- Participation in the legislative debate is essential. Extended absence from the chamber during a session will affect a contestant’s overall impression and performance. The practice of “open chambers” interferes with the parliamentarian’s ability to monitor student participation.
- Visual aids are permitted in Congressional Debate, provided they do not require electronic retrieval devices in the chamber.
- Please see National Forensic League rules for use of laptops/electronic retrieval devices. Cell phones, music players and games are not to be used in the chamber during a session. Traditional timing devices are permitted.