How To Research California Legislative History and Legislative Intent

Today’s podcast is about getting a better understanding of California legislative history and intent research. Of course, many law review articles and books have been written on legislative history and intent. This podcast covers the subject in a summary fashion.

At a minimum, it is a good idea to cross reference one’s understanding of a proposed legislative solution with the statements of legislative intent that you can glean from the bill’s legislative history. My friend, Carolina Rose, identified a couple of reasons why:

  1. California codes’ statutes are rife with ambiguities that the courts will look to the legislative history in an attempt to clarify.
  2. The courts will overlook a statute’s plain meaning if it collides with evidence of the legislator’s actual intent, or it is an effort to avoid an absurd application.
  3. Courts will also look to legislative history to confirm their own plain reading of a statute.

Both attorneys and State Capitol watchers would do well to understand that evidence of California legislative history and intent serves as an important aid for interpreting statutes and understanding what was intended by the California Legislature in enacting a particular new law or amending an existing law.

In general, evidence of legislative intent can be derived from two primary sources, either an intrinsic analysis of the statute and its surrounding statutory context, according to traditional standards and principles of statutory construction; or by the use of extrinsic aids which are used to reconstruct the legislative history of a statute.

The wider historical circumstances that surround the adoption, or amendment, or repeal of a statute can also yield extrinsic evidence of legislative intent that’s found outside the statute itself. There are a few questions that interested persons should ask to help guide their efforts in properly researching legislative history. Again, these questions come from my friend Carolina Rose:

  • What is the plain meaning of the language in statute, and to what extent is that meaning self-evident?
  • Why was the statute adopted?
  • What need or needs prompted it?
  • What problem or problems was the Legislature trying to correct?
  • What happened in the Legislature during the process of adopting the bill? What’s the statutes legislative history?
  • What was the law prior to the adoption of the statute?
  • What has happened since the statute was adopted?

As for where you can find the resources to help answer those questions, you’ll have to listen to the podcast.