closeup of text from the pages of mason's manual

Points of order: Mason’s Manual is compiled by people who work in or with legislatures and is based on an exhaustive study of parliamentary procedure, legislative precedents and judicial decisions.

When Procedural Questions Arise, Turn to Mason’s Manual

By Brenda Erickson | Feb. 18, 2021 | State Legislatures Magazine

What happens when a legislature has an unusual conflict? Or something unforeseen happens? Or there’s procedural ambiguity? Legislative life can be unpredictable. And when questions arise, more than 75% of the nation’s legislative chambers turn to Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure.

Ten years in the making, the 2020 edition of the manual is available now.

Mason’s is written specifically to meet the needs of state legislatures, addressing concepts in the context that legislators and legislative staff must deal with—that is, within the legislative environment.

Who Decides What to Update?

Mason’s is compiled by people who work in or with legislatures and has evolved from an exhaustive study of parliamentary procedure, legislative precedents and judicial decisions. The process started in the 1930s and has been repeated 10 times.

Members of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries served on the 2020 Mason’s Manual Commission. Formed in June 2011, the commission held 27 meetings and members contributed countless hours revising and updating the content.

During its review, the commission:

• Added sections about remote participation.

• Rewrote the section about legislative privilege and immunity.

• Reorganized the section about the enrolled bill rule versus the journal entry rule.

• Added more internal cross-references.

• Reviewed case law from 2009 to 2019 and updated case citations as needed.

For the first time, the National Conference of State Legislatures is offering the manual in both print and digital formats. Order your copy today.

Brenda Erickson is a program principal in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program.



Know Your Mason’s? Try Our Quiz.

Think you’re a pro when it comes to knowing our chamber’s rules? Take this quiz—and brush up on a few legislative procedures in the process. Answers and where to find them in Mason’s Manual are below.

1. A substitute bill is a:

A. New, original introduction.

B. Form of an amendment.

C. Temporary replacement.


2. A legislative body may discipline members:

A. Never—that power lies solely with the executive branch.

B. As it deems it appropriate.

C. Only when there’s trouble in paradise.


3. The enacting clause:

A. Is located above the signature line for the governor.

B. Is added to legislation once approved by both chambers.

C. Is required for a new law to be valid.


4. The motion to adjourn:

A. Can be made only when there is a quorum.

B. Is always in order.

C. Cannot be reconsidered.


5. A joint session:

A. Requires the senate and house to merge into one body.

B. Can be convened only by the governor.

C. Cannot meet longer than one week.


6. The motion to reconsider:

A. Requires a minute of silent reflection.

B. Can be amended.

C. Cannot be amended.


7. If a committee chair resigns, the vacancy typically is filled by:

A. The chief legislative officer.

B. The committee itself.

C. The body’s appointing authority.


8. Debate on a question must:

A. Be confined to the merits of the pending question.

B. Be confined to the merits of the pending question and any amendments.

C. Last no longer than ten minutes.


9. A matter withdrawn from a committee:

A. Is lost for the session.

B. May be acted upon by the body.

C. May not be referred to another committee.


10. In a general order of business, unfinished business is presented:

A. Immediately before first reading of bills.

B. Only as time allows.

C. Immediately after approval of the journal.



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