By Arnold R. Grahl  
Rotary News -- 17 April 2013  

Delegates from Rotary’s 532 districts will gather in downtown Chicago next week, 21-26 April, to consider changes to the policies that govern Rotary International and its member clubs.

The Council on Legislation meets every three years to debate proposals submitted by Rotary clubs, districts, and the RI Board of Directors. The Council has the power to pass resolutions and to make changes to the Constitution of Rotary International, Rotary International Bylaws, and the Standard Rotary Club Constitution.
Every district sends a representative to the Council, and every club and district may propose legislation. The 174 pieces of legislation being debated during this year’s Council were received at Rotary headquarters by the due date of 31 December 2011.

Over its 79-year history, the Council has developed from a single plenary session at the international convention to an autonomous legislative entity.

Created in 1933, the Council was envisioned as an advisory body to assist with the review of enactments and resolutions proposed at the annual convention. It first convened as part of the 1934 convention, as Rotarians struggled with a worldwide depression, threats to world peace, and rising unemployment.

By 1954, the Council was well established, and Rotarians decided to allow for longer intervals between legislative sessions, adopting a biennial framework for voting upon enactments and resolutions. The next deliberations were held at the 1956 convention.

The 1970 convention further modified Rotary International’s legislative process when it decided that the Council should no longer serve in an advisory capacity but instead become RI’s official legislative body, considering proposals to amend the RI Constitution and Bylaws and the Standard Rotary Club Constitution. Four years later, delegates decided that the Council would meet triennially, still in conjunction with the convention. Finally, in 1977, the Council adopted an enactment to meet separately from the convention.

Technological advances have also had a profound impact on the Council. In the 1970s, delegates wore large headphones to hear the proceedings in their own languages. Today’s delegates have access to compact simultaneous interpretation equipment. And the use of a single interpreter has given way to multiple interpreters working out of booths on the side of the Council chambers. Electronic voting was introduced in 2001.

Over the decades, the Council has debated virtually every nuance of RI policy and every detail of membership and attendance rules. While individual Rotarians may not always agree with its decisions, one thing is clear: The Council is Rotary’s primary agent for change, allowing the organization to evaluate its relevance in today’s rapidly evolving world, reflecting shifts in lifestyles, priorities, technology, and business.

Below is a brief list of some of the more notable Councils:

  • The 1980 Council on Legislation supported Rotary’s efforts to immunize children against polio. A year earlier, the RI Board had approved the first Health, Hunger and Humanity (3-H) grant, funding a five-year effort to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines against polio. The effort eventually led to the PolioPlus program, launched in 1985. Realizing such a commitment would require the collective will of Rotarians everywhere, the Board proposed, and the 1986 Council adopted, a resolution endorsing Rotary’s commitment to immunizing the world’s children against polio. Subsequent Councils have continued to support polio eradication as Rotary’s top priority.
  • The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary. It followed a decades-long effort from all over the Rotary world to allow for the admission of women, including several close votes at previous Council meetings. Read more about women in Rotary.
  • The 1950 Council is remembered for adopting “Service Above Self” and “He Profits Most Who Serves Best” (later reworded “One Profits Most Who Serves Best”) as Rotary mottoes. Read more about Rotary mottoes.
  • The 2001 Council is often noted for the amount of legislation received -- more than 1,000 proposals -- with over 600 being published and considered by the delegates.