Parliamentary Procedure FAQ 6

What distinguishes a motion to reconsider from a motion to rescind?

A motion to reconsider and a motion to rescind are the most common methods for a governing body or a committee to review or reverse a prior action of the body or committee. Here are some of the more important differences that public officials should be aware of.

A motion to reconsider may be made to reconsider: a main motion; an affirmative vote to "postpone indefinitely"; amendment; referral to committee before the committee begins consideration of the referred matter; postponement to a specific time; the unexecuted portion of a decision to limit or extend debate; closing debate (previous question) before voting on the main question; and setting an adjourned meeting. A successful motion to reconsider brings back for further consideration the matter previously acted upon. In circumstances where the original motion entered the municipality into a contractual relationship, reconsideration which results in reversal of the earlier decision and violates the rights of the party contracting with the municipality must be avoided.

A motion to rescind may only be made to rescind a main motion -- i.e., a motion to adopt an ordinance, resolution, order or other legislative act of the body. Unlike a motion to reconsider, a motion to rescind will not bring a matter back for further consideration or debate if adopted. Instead, a successful motion to rescind simply nullifies the prior action. For this reason, a motion to rescind is not in order: if something has been done in response to the original motion that cannot be undone; if the original motion created a contract and the contracting party has been notified; if a resignation has been acted on and the person has been officially notified; a person has been appointed to or expelled from a position and they have been officially notified; or the action would result in the violation of a vested right.

Motions to reconsider and motions to rescind also have different timing requirements. A strict application of Robert's Rules requires that a motion to reconsider to be made on the same day the vote on the original motion was taken. However, a motion to reconsider, once made, can be debated and voted on at a later date. Many municipalities have adopted rules that allow a motion to reconsider to be made at the next meeting. A motion to rescind is not subject to any specific time limits. For example, the Wisconsin Supreme court has upheld rescission of a resolution nearly nine months after the resolution was enacted.

Finally, the person who may make a motion to reconsider or motion to rescind also differs. A motion to reconsider must be made by a member of the city council or village board who voted with the prevailing side; that is, a member who voted "yes" if the original motion passed or "no" if the motion failed. A member who was either absent for the vote on the original motion or abstained from voting is precluded from making a motion to reconsider the original motion. However, if the motion to reconsider is at the committee level, it may be made by anyone who did not vote on the losing side, including persons who were absent for or abstained from the vote on the original motion. A motion to rescind on the other hand may be made by any member of the body regardless of how that member voted on the original motion.