McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli

The determination of legislative intent is important because there are instances in which there are legitimate legal disputes between the parties as to what statutory language may mean or what was intended by the language. In these cases, both parties will attempt to argue that their interpretation is the correct one that should be adopted by the court. Obviously then it’s up to the judiciary to determine whose view is the correct one. The concern from this author’s perspective is that the courts utilize an unrealistic viewpoint in determining which legislative intent materials can be properly used by a court, to make a determination.

In determining the intent of the Legislature in enacting state laws, California courts have historically taken a limited view of legislative materials that can be utilized to determine the intent of the Legislature. For example, the courts have determined that documents available to all legislators are the proper ones to use. Of course, this is based on the unrealistic assumption that all legislators read all of the materials before casting their votes on a particular bill. That is not a criticism of the Legislature, but an acknowledgement that legislators cannot be expected to read every bill and all of the background materials and the analyses and thoroughly understand the intent behind each and every measure.

The main source of legislative intent, in the California Legislature is found in the committee and floor analyses. Unfortunately, these committee and floor bill analyses, rarely provide details or insights into why specific bill language was or was not used in a bill. Generally, these bill analyses explain existing law, changes to the law being proposed by the bill, arguments for and against the bill, and a few staff comments regarding the bill’s provisions. However, rarely is specific language discussed and the reasons why that particular language was used. As a result, there are definite limitations in gleaning insights into the language used by the Legislature when it comes to particular bills.

Because of these factors, California courts’ reliance on certain legislative materials is important, but the state courts often take an unnecessarily narrow view of which items of legislative history can be appropriately used to determine the intent of the Legislature. One possible reason is that the judicial branch does not have a fundamental understanding of the legislative process.

Sometimes a statute’s plain reading can be followed, but at other times that may not be so easy and the courts will have to rely upon the limited evidence of legislative intent that is available to them to use. Thanks for joining today’s podcast on finding legislative intent.

You can find a full transcript of today’s podcast here.