The fascinating exchange on July 27, 2017 between Representative Maxine Waters (California) and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin has reverberated far beyond Washington, DC. Representative Waters sought a direct answer to a specific question. When the Secretary failed to answer, she interrupted him numerous times, referring to the House Rules of Order, with the phrase reclaiming my time. This has now become an “Internet Meme” on the theme of empowerment – you may enjoy Christina Emba’s Op-Ed linked to this video. Singer Mykal Kilgore has even created a gospel song with the refrain reclaiming my time, which you can hear here.
The House rules, however, are different in many respects from Robert’s Rules of Order. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, “rights in regard to debate are not transferable.” A member cannot yield any unused portion of his time to another member. The exception would be if your organization has passed a “special rule of order” allowing this (which we do NOT recommend).
Reclaiming my time vs. Robert’s basic guidance
Here are some basic things to know about Robert’s Rules and time:
LIMITS Members may speak twice per day on each motion being considered, each speech for a maximum of 10 minutes
SMALL BOARDS These limits do not apply in small boards (up to about 12 people). Read more about the small board rules here.
OTHER OPTIONS Robert’s Rules offer a foundation for discussion. If the rules don’t suit your group, here are some steps you can take:
- To change your rules in general, you can pass “special rules of order.” Read how to do this here.
- To change the rules in a specific situation, you can use the motion “to limit or extend the limits of debate.”
- It is also fine to use “unanimous consent.” If a chair senses that some change or limit is appropriate, he can say, “If there’s no objection, we will allow the member to finish her comments” or “Without objection, we will limit discussion on this topic to 15 minutes total.” If the members remain silent, they have agreed to the proposal. If they disagree, they can say “objection” and then the chair should take a vote.
Have you had issues with reclaiming my time or time limits in discussion? Let us know – we’d love to hear about them!