House of Delegates: A Primer

Going to House of Delegates for the first time, or are you a veteran but feel like you may be getting a little rusty on your Roberts Rules? Worry not. We’re here to break it down for you.  

There are rules in place to ensure that each motion is heard and everyone who wishes to speak has the oppurtunity. Imagine the average meeting you’ve been in. Is there are a lot of time wasting and inefficient debate and discussion? Imagine then a meeting with hundreds of delegates with a year’s worth of issues to address. Robert’s Rules help the House work through its business in an efficient, productive, and equitable manner.

Let’s set the stage. When you walk into the House of Delegates, you’ll see:

  1. Rows of tables labeled with states.
  2. Microphones at various points
  3. The stage, aka “the dais” which includes
    1. A giant podium, fondly referred to as “Hannibal the Lectern”
    2. A table on either side of the podium
    3. 3 big screens–one behind the podium, and one on either side.
  4. The gallery, or rows of chairs where those who are not delegates sit, behind the state tables.


The Speaker of the House (Sue Griffin, PT, DPT), conducts the business of the House from behind the podium.The Reference Committee, the secretary, the Vice Speaker, and others work to support her as motions come to the floor. You might see the House ushers, students dressed in white shirts and khakis, running back and forth with messages to the dais.

And of course, you’ll hear the strange lingo. Here are some of the more commonly used phrases on the House floor:


Main Motion: Motions are kind of like bills in Congress. A motion only becomes a motion after it has been officially read on the House floor, before that it is merely a motion concept. For motions to be brought before the House their motion concepts must have already been proposed and sent to the Reference Committee months in advance. If a motion is passed it can become an APTA  policy position, directive, or bylaw depending on the motion.


Amend a Motion: Motions can be amended at any point during debate. Amendments may be proposed in order to clarify the original intent of the motion, or ensure its purpose is achieved.  Once an amendment is proposed and read debate shifts to the Amendment, and if passed debate returns to the original motion which is now the amended motion.


Commit or Refer: Depending on the scope of a motion a motion may be committed or referred to a component for further investigation or to begin work if it is deemed passage of a new motion isn’t necessary. Most commonly at APTA HOD motions can be referred to the Board of Directors.


I Move the Previous Question: Is a vote to end debate on a motion and formally vote on the motion.


Postpone Indefinitely: I once had a professor whose common response to difficult questions without a ready explanation was: “Let’s put that in the parking lot.” Similarly, sometimes delegates don’t want to address a difficult issue or feel that debate on a motion has become tangential and in these circumstances an effective way to kill the motion is to “Postpone indefinitely”. Note that a Yea vote kills the motion, and a Nay vote allows debate to continue but is not a direct vote on the motion.


Point of Order: If a delegate feels that the Parliamentary rules have been violated, such as presence of a quorum, point of order may be called.


Parliamentary Inquiry: Generally called when delegates are uncertain of what is going on. Keeping track of whether they are voting on limiting debate, an amendment, or the motion itself can get confusing even for seasoned delegates.  


Point of Privilege; or Point of Personal Privilege: Can be used to complain about noise or heat but at APTA HOD generally used to either name drop about a delegates friends/ family or brag about their section/ chapter. Usually limited to the times immediately before recess or the Speaker may deny it.  


Executive Session:  This is when it gets good. Sometimes during sensitive discussions the House may elect (via majority vote) to go into executive session. This means only APTA members and staff can remain in the house, and the live stream is interrupted. This allows the delegates to discuss sensitive issues off the record. Think of executive session as a strict “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” policy. Those who have attended HOD in the past know that some of the most heated and animated debates occur during executive session.


This is just a brief overview–there are many more rules (but we’ll let you track down a copy of Robert’s Rules of your own).


We’ll be covering the motions of House over the next few weeks–keep an eye out!


You can check out our High Five (Who, What, When, Where, Why) on the House here, and download the shareable PDF here: High5_HOD2018


Ian MacMurdie, SPTA, CSCS, voted most likely to be watching CSPAN on a Friday night, loves policy, and a stout ginger beer. Follow him on Twitter here.


Rachel Jermann, PT, DPT, founder and president of Talus Media, loves hunting for PT news and broadcasting it. Also, Ben & Jerry’s.  Find her on Twitter here.